wim hof method. cold exposure. leadership. self improvement. wellness. health. health and wellness. wellbeing. winter. aspen. colorado.

Off the Mountains and Into the Ice

Late, heavy snow really extended the ski season this year. It was great, sort of.

However much we love our skiing here in the valley, we’re still human. It almost seemed as though there was a little guilt when people would marvel over a 12-inch dump well into spring only to sheepishly admit, “But I’m kind of over it. I’m ready for some warm weather.”

It’s OK, we’re allowed to happily move on from the cold after an epic season. Or, should I say, we’re allowed to happily move on from the ski season.

But we should never move on from the cold. Allow me to explain.

I’m originally from the Tri-State area —  New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — where stress is a way of life. This is a place where if you only live 6 miles from the office, it still may take you two hours to get to work if you must travel through the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel to get into Manhattan. It’s a constant rush to simply get to where you need to go, along with the millions of others everyday you are convinced are going to the exact same place you are. It’s quite a way of life. 

While I’m a proud New Yorker, I don’t miss that lifestyle and have not looked back once since my family and I left the area for good.

We don’t have those problems here in the valley, thankfully. The other day I caught myself telling my wife, aghast, that it took me 20 minutes on Highway 82 to drop the kids off to school. The horror!

Here’s the thing, though: Stress isn’t a competition. Stress meets us where we are, whether it’s the traffic and hustle and bustle of New York City or dealing with “those people” on Aspen Mountain during a holiday ski weekend.

Stress is stress and it must be dealt with properly. The negative effect of stress, better known as chronic inflammation, is the key driver to every life-threatening disease our society faces today: cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer … the list goes on and on.

Even people with the healthy and active lifestyles we see everyday here in our beloved valley are not immune to these life-threatening diseases, because the ill effects of improperly managed stress will always win.

Leaders, regardless of who, what, or where they are leading, operate seamlessly under stressful conditions. As a Navy SEAL, FBI special agent, and combat veteran, I’ve spent the better part of my life leading and being led through literal life-and-death situations.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that the best outcomes result from the leaders who recognize and manage stressful situations with a calm, assertive confidence. The question is, of course, “How can I learn to do that?”

Welcome back to my original premise. We should never move on from the cold. Conscious cold exposure acts as a literal and figurative solution to properly managing the ravages of chronic stress and inflammation as well as how to lead calmly and effectively during times of chaos and uncertainty.

When we enter an ice bath, we are essentially inducing a panic attack, a form of extreme stress. In the ice bath our breath and heart rate accelerate, and we begin to lose control of our ability to properly breathe.

When we recognize these basic stress signals, they no longer concern us because we know they are just physiological reactions to the cold and stress. We are then able to focus on slowing our breath and calming down in the ice bath. When we do this, we move from that fight-or-flight response to one of calm and control, or the rest and digest response.

When we go through this drill, we practice recognizing the symptoms of stress and how to reverse them. This is a skill we can use anywhere, anytime. This is the skill I used in the many life-threatening situations I have found myself in. This is a drill you can use to recognize and control stress in any situation in your life, personal or professional.

What else? The physiological benefits of cold exposure are becoming more abundant as scientific studies continue to come out. In short, when we practice cold exposure, we strengthen our physiology and, by extension, our innate immune system via the contraction and expansion of our blood vessels and organs. We are also exercising our nervous system by voluntarily bringing ourselves in and out of our sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) systems, which helps clear the inflammation caused by stress from our systems.

Use cold exposure to learn to recognize and control stress. Use cold exposure to exercise our nervous system and strengthen our innate immune system. Use cold exposure to remove inflammation from the body and reduce the risk of life-altering diseases.

When we do this, we can focus on how we are leading instead of how we are feeling physically and emotionally. Pretty simple.

Now, go get cold and become a great leader!

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