Can Icing Your Chest Ease a Panic Attack and Make You Sleep Better? – Exploring the Benefits

Dr. Serenity
April 12, 2023

Can Putting Ice on Your Chest Relieve Panic Attacks and Improve Sleep?

TikTok users are raving about a technique that involves placing an ice pack on your chest to stimulate the vagus nerve, which allegedly helps reduce anxiety and enhance sleep quality. The hashtag #vagusnerve has millions of views, indicating people’s interest in this concept. But does this method actually work? We delve into the science behind it and consult experts for their opinions.

The Icing Your Chest Trend: Can Placing an Ice Pack on Your Chest Ease Anxiety and Improve Sleep Quality?

TikTokers are raving about a new technique that claims to help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. The trick involves placing a cold ice pack in the center of your chest, which allegedly stimulates the vagus nerve, according to the popular TikTok videos.

The vagus nerve is a part of the parasympathetic nervous system and controls many involuntary bodily functions, including heart rate, respiratory rate, and digestion. Carleara Weiss, PhD, RN, an adult-geriatric nurse specialist and Aeroflow Sleep’s Sleep Science Advisor, explains that stimulating the vagus nerve triggers the body’s relaxation response.

Frankie Simmons, a TikToker with over 330.5K followers, claims that the technique has significantly reduced her anxiety-induced sleep disturbances. She suggests that placing an ice pack on the chest for at least 15 minutes can be a game changer.

But does the icing your chest technique actually work, and is it safe to try? In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about the trend, including insights from medical professionals.

What is the Icing Your Chest Trend and How Does It Work?

This trendy hack involves using a cold ice pack placed on the center of your chest to activate the vagus nerve, as seen on popular TikTok videos. The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system that controls many involuntary bodily functions and triggers the body’s relaxation response after a stressful period. According to Carleara Weiss, PhD, RN, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist and Aeroflow Sleep’s Sleep Science Advisor, the vagus nerve also regulates vital internal systems such as digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate. TikToker Simmons recommends this simple technique for vagus nerve stimulation, stating that it is much easier and more comfortable than taking ice-cold showers or dips in icy lakes. Just wrap an ice pack in a towel, place it on your chest, lie down for at least 15 minutes, and experience the game-changing benefits.

What Medical Professionals Say About the Effectiveness of Chest Icing

Many people are turning to chest icing, a trend that involves placing a cold ice pack in the center of the chest to activate the vagus nerve, in an effort to decrease stress and anxiety. But does this technique actually work? Here’s what doctors have to say.

  • The Science Behind Icing Your Chest

According to Katja Zeisler, DPT, a physical therapist at California Rehabilitation and Sports Therapy in Fountain Valley, California, when the body is under stress, the sympathetic system goes into overdrive. Icing your vagus nerve, on the other hand, can promote cardiac vagal activity, which in turn increases heart rate variability and decreases stress.

While there is research to suggest that cold stimulation, like the application of an ice pack, can increase heart rate variability, Zeisler points out that it’s not clear how this translates to overall vagus nerve activity. Additionally, there is no research specifically examining whether or not chest icing, as described in viral TikTok videos, can help.

  • Potential Benefits of Chest Icing

Despite the lack of specific research on chest icing, Zeisler notes that cold stimulation could help the sympathetic nervous system come out of overdrive, which may reduce anxiety and heart rate. Other studies have also shown that whole body cryotherapy, or complete body submersion in cold water, may help manage anxiety disorders.

  • Temporary Fix vs. Long-Term Solutions

However, even if chest icing does provide some temporary relief, it is not a long-term solution. “Is it going to address why their body is in a state of fight or flight [increased stress] in the first place? Definitely not,” Zeisler says. Lifestyle changes such as exercise, healthy eating, and meditation are more effective strategies for coping with stress in the long run.

In conclusion, while chest icing may provide temporary relief for stress and anxiety, it is important to address the root causes of stress and incorporate healthy lifestyle changes for long-term stress management.

Who Should (and Shouldn’t) Try the Chest Icing Trend: What Medical Experts Say

If you’re considering trying the chest icing trend, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and take precautions. Here’s what medical experts want you to know:

  • Approach With Caution

According to Dr. Carleara Weiss, anyone experiencing sleep problems, anxiety, or depression should consult their primary care provider before attempting any health trend seen on TikTok. There is a risk of an excessive drop in heart rate and blood pressure, particularly for those with cardiovascular or vasovagal disorders. Seeking medical advice and counseling is the best course of action for accurate treatment.

  • Alternative Strategies

Meditation and breathing exercises are other strategies that could help manage stress and anxiety and improve sleep with far fewer risks, says Weiss.

  • Precautions

It’s important to avoid putting the ice pack directly onto your skin, as this can lead to frostbite or skin irritation. Always wrap the ice pack with a towel before placing it on your skin.

Is Chest Icing Effective?

While there isn’t conclusive clinical evidence on the benefits of chest icing, it may offer temporary relief in easing anxiety and promoting sleep, according to Weiss.

Bottom Line

It’s important to speak with a primary care provider before implementing chest icing or any other health trend into your daily routine. This will help to identify any underlying problems that may be better treated by other means and ensure that chest icing is safe for you to try.

Author Dr. Serenity

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