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Taking the Plunge: Unveiling the Power of Dive Reflex
Get ready to dive into the wild world of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), where we’ll explore the concept of the dive reflex. Contrary to its name, this therapy technique isn’t about swimming with dolphins or discovering hidden treasures, but it is an accessible tool, easy to learn, and can help make your emotional storm feel more like riding an emotional wave like a pro surfer. So, let’s dive right in.
DBT is a mash-up of cognitive-behavioral techniques, mindfulness, and acceptance strategies. Developed by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan, it helps people deal with everything from borderline personality disorder to the everyday emotional rollercoaster. DBT empowers individuals to foster mindfulness, regulate their emotions, tolerate distress like a champ, and master the art of interpersonal effectiveness.
As mentioned, one of DBT’s main areas of focus is distress tolerance. Instead of letting our emotions knock us off course, DBT can teach us to roll with the punches. Some of the skills include radical acceptance, distraction, and self-soothing, but when those emotions are so overwhelming that they can’t be tamed with a cup of tea or a funny cat video, DBT unleashes its powerful arsenal of TIPP skills. The “T” stands for temperature, referring to the dive reflex.
The Dive Reflex
Hidden within our evolutionary heritage lies a secret weapon, the mammalian dive reflex. This physiological superpower is built right into our bodies and is easily accessible. When a mammal’s face (aka human face) comes into contact with cold water, its body automatically initiates a series of adaptive changes to help them survive underwater. Firstly, our heart rate slows down which conserves oxygen and allows us to hold our breath for longer periods. Secondly, blood vessels in our extremities constrict, redirecting blood flow to vital organs like the heart and brain. This ensures these areas receive sufficient oxygenated blood. These incredible adaptations allow us to stay submerged for extended periods while maximizing our chances of survival.
How Does This Help With Distress?
Well, the effects of the dive reflex are due to the vagus nerve being stimulated, which is linked to the body’s relaxation response. The overall reduction in physiological arousal can reduce the intensity of emotional distress by redirecting the focus from internal turmoil to the physical sensation of cold.
Additionally, activating the dive reflex can create a momentary interruption in the distressing thought or emotional state, as the body’s response to the cold sensation becomes the primary focus. This interruption can provide a brief respite from overwhelming emotions and help regain a sense of control over one’s emotional state.
How to Apply this Icy-cool Technique
Get yourself a bowl of cold water or grab an ice pack. Either take the plug and submerge your face or hold the ice pack against your eyes/upper cheeks. Pay attention to the sensation of cold on your skin and the changes it produces in your body. Feel the coolness and let yourself experience the physical impact. Keep your face submerged or the ice pack on for about 15-30 seconds or until you start feeling a sense of relief or increased calmness.
Remember, this tool is just one skill in your arsenal when it comes to managing intense emotions and it works best when used in conjunction with other skills. Once you “cool off” that cup of tea or cat video will be helpful. With this holistic approach, you’ll have all the tools you need to navigate the stormy seas of emotions with grace and resilience.
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Written by: Sarrah Hohmann MACP
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