Monday 31 July 2023

Cold Feet: How I calm my anxiety with regulated breathing and cold exposure

Heythem shares his experience on how he calms himself down before high-stakes situations, such as job interviews.

- Heythem Naji

A few years back, I found myself in a high-stakes situation. I was applying for an internship position in a psychosocial support centre for refugees. It was already quite late in the final semester of my undergraduate in psychology. There was quite a lot riding on the outcomes of this. If I didn't land this opportunity, I would have needed to extend my studies for another semester, and this would have meant I needed to wait another year to start my Graduate Programme. I knew this position was very competitive, which ramped up my anxiety even more.  

On the morning of the interview, my nervousness reached its peak. I couldn't eat, and I had an almost sleepless night. I tried to meditate for relief, but my racing thoughts didn't stop. I was so afraid to stumble throughout the interview, and I started to tell myself stories that I didn't have a chance to get chosen for this internship. I was preparing myself for failure. 

I remembered Wim Hof, who teaches unique breathing techniques and cold exposure therapy for developing cold resistance and calming down anxiety. With nothing to lose, I decided to try it. I followed his guided breathing exercises and then took an ice-cold shower. I stood under the freezing water for 3 full minutes, focusing on breathing. After the shower, I did another round of breathing exercises. 

To my surprise, I felt my anxieties unwind, detangle, and my thoughts become clearer with each round of breathing, and the effects of this cold shower still coursing through my bloodstream. My anxieties didn't disappear and still stirred, but I was left with a clear and calm mind and newfound energy and confidence. Of course, I still felt nervous going into the interview, but I felt more centred and focused.   

During the interview,  2 Psychologists and the manager of the psychosocial centre were sitting in front of me. They were more interested in me as a person than in my studies. They were especially interested in my immigrant background and experience interacting with refugees. Luckily, I had a lot of experience in that field, and I answered the questions coherently and kept my cool. Normally, It was common that my anxiety caused me to stumble, speak too fast, and forget my words, but I was surprised at how calm and confident I answered the questions! 

One week later, I got the response: I landed the internship. This allowed my then to finish my university studies on time. Needless to say, I have used cold showers as a stress management tool ever since. Whenever I feel nervous, anxious, or depressed, this is my go-to guide for helping me calm back down. Anxieties are unique to everyone, and everyone experiences different things in different ways, but I'd like to share with you what works for me:

Step 1: Breathing exercises 
Before I start cold exposure, I begin with deep breathing exercises, for example:
  • Sit comfortably in a quiet place. 
  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose for 4 sec. 
  • Hold your breath for 7 sec. 
  • Exhale forcefully through your mouth for 8 sec. 
  • Repeat this cycle for 4-5 minutes.  

Step 2: Prepare for the cold shower 
Next, I prepare myself mentally for the cold shower. I remind myself that this is a powerful tool for managing stress and anxiety and then start with a normal-temperature shower, then gradually reduce the water temperature.  

Step 3: Cold shower 
Once the water is cold, I try to stay under it for a minimum of 1-3 minutes. The initial shock of the cold will pass!  

Step 4: Focus on breathing
While in the cold shower, I focus on my breathing. My breath may hitch due to the cold but I try to keep it steady and deep. Concentrating on my breath helps draw attention away from my anxiety and centres me in the present moment.  

Step 5: Post-shower breathing exercises
Outside of the shower, I then repeat the exercises I did in Step 1 to further reduce anxiety levels and increase calm and focus.  

Step 6: Grounding myself
I embrace the feeling of calm and clarity and carry this stillness throughout my day.  

Remember, consistency is key. Regularly incorporating this into my routine and using it in difficult situations affects my ability to manage and reduce anxiety. It's also worth noting that the cold doesn't have to come from showers. Ice baths, swimming in cold water, or even applying a cold pack to your neck and chest can be effective forms of cold exposure therapy, in my experience. 

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available.

I am a psychology student and blogger dedicated to raising awareness of mental and physical health on my blog. I struggled a lot with anxiety and, for a long time, nothing seemed to work. This technique of breathing and cold exposure saved me and keeps saving me throughout my life.

No comments:

Post a Comment