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KGB Vol 19: The vaccine for stress management

It’s a click-bait type of title, a very provocative use of language, with a hot topic embedded. Did I get you?

Stress is one of today’s hot topics and, at times, just the mention of it can elicit a strong response from people who consider themselves to be highly tolerant of stress. I rarely argue about the topic of stress tolerance with people because it tends to show up on the volatile conversation list much like religion or politics.

With my clients, most of whom are highly motivated to be as healthy as possible, I consider it a win if we can simply get to the point of stress recognition. Some stress is good, no stress is bad, too much stress can be a killer. 

Maybe you consider yourself one of these people with exceptional stress tolerance. Great. Did you work to get there or is it a self-proclaimed superpower? Are you a person who doesn’t handle stress well? No problem; we all have our triggers, but how does stress impact your performance as a leader and a coach?

Obviously, there is no actual vaccination against the negative effects of stress on the body. The term “vaccine” is used here in the context of systematically preparing the body to handle potentially bad stuff. Much like the logic and science behind medical vaccines, small doses of the right things can help build an immunity to disease without getting you sick. 

So, how does this concept of prepping and prevention apply to stress tolerance?

Enter Cold Water Immersion (CWI). We have seen athletes dunking themselves in cold tubs for decades. We even have research to support the when and why of cold water immersion. How, then, can we as coaches use this approach to increase our ability to handle stressful situations? Let’s unpack the strategy and its effects.

Sitting in a tub of really cold water is stressful. The cold challenges us physically to endure the uncomfortable sensation. It challenges us mentally to keep the mind focused and to not give in to physical signals. The hormones released in the body when we are cold are the same as when we experience physical or mental stress.

In this setting, icy cold water is a hurdle or stressor that must be overcome, not unlike a brutal loss or half-hearted practice effort. How we respond to most stressors is within our control and is not simply a reflex. Training this response can be done while submerged in cold water. Achieving this effect can occur in as little as three minutes per session. Controlling our minds while we are in this stressful environment can be as simple as managing our breathing and focusing the mind. It can be as complicated as adding cognitive challenges or neuro-visual therapy techniques (word find, memory recall, eye tracking, etc.). The goal is to control the body and mind’s reaction to the cold, just like we plan to control our reactions toward players. 

Now, if you just don’t like cold water, I understand. Even getting in the tub in the first place is a win for you. As you grow more tolerant of the sensations, you can go from a quick dip to three minutes of submersion. Try this once a week and consider working yourself up to two or three days a week to build up your resiliency. If you can tolerate the three minutes, make the water colder or challenge your brain even further.

As a coach, “vaccinating” against the negative effects of stress is never a bad move. How you choose to use this newfound superpower is up to you. Having a clear mind amidst chaos is a critical skill and skills can be trained. Even lifting weights can help with this. CWI is not the only road to zen coaching, but it can certainly help and there is more and more research being performed on this approach every year to validate the approach

Here is a suggested protocol for CWI 

Water temp: Your choice, but it should be uncomfortably COLD

How long: 2-3 sessions per week, 1-3 min. per session (about 10-15 min. total per week)


  1.     Lean into the discomfort and battle
  2.     Embrace the discomfort and try to control your breathing/thinking


  1.     Colder water
  2.     Extended sessions
  3.     Get out/in a couple times per session
  4.     Increase the mental challenge

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