Skip to Main Content

Manage gambling urges using this simple trick

By: Aimee Oliveri (clinical psychologist) & Dr Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist)

Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by the urge to gamble? Strong urges can be both physical and psychological. Our thoughts might race, and we may feel irritable, agitated, or restless. In those intense moments, it's essential to have a practical tool to help you stay on track and manage that distress. One such tool is as simple as taking a cold shower – a technique that physiologically taps into our body's incredible "dive reflex."

Now this strategy might sound a bit ridiculous or basic, but stick with us as we explain it all, because it can be highly effective. This is one of many skills used in a type of therapy called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. In this blog post, we'll explore the science behind the dive reflex and how it can be an effective strategy for managing powerful gambling urges.

The Science Behind the Dive Reflex

The dive reflex, also known as the mammalian response, is a fascinating and innate survival response our bodies have when our face, particularly the area around our eyes and nose, come into contact with very cold water. It's not just a party trick; it's an evolutionary adaptation that causes our body to initiate a series of physiological changes to help us adapt to a potentially life-threatening situation.

During the dive reflex, the heart slows, and blood vessels constrict. This response helps people by conserving oxygen and decreasing the risk of potential harm, such as drowning.

Leveraging the Dive Reflex to Tackle Gambling Urges

So, how can you harness the power of the dive reflex to effectively manage your gambling urges?

Let's explore various methods of using cold water to initiate the dive reflex and control those overwhelming gambling urges:

  1. Apply cold ice-packs to your forehead, eyes or other parts of your face: a chill remedy for taming those urges. If you don’t have an ice pack, a bag of frozen peas will do the trick.
  2. Have a cold shower: and we mean COLD. This will give you a full-body experience of the dive response.
  3. Sip small amounts of cold water: a soothing yet refreshing way to harness the power of the dive reflex.
  4. Splash your face with cold water: a quick, refreshing wake-up call for your senses.

Benefits of The Dive Reflex

Now that we've explored the ‘how’ of using cold water to initiate the dive reflex, let's delve into the benefits for managing gambling urges:

  1. Promote Calm and Relaxation: The dive response triggers the release of endorphins, and slows down the heart rate, which can have a calming effect. This helps mitigate impulsivity and makes it easier to resist acting on the urge. It's like a reset button for your emotions.
  2. Enhanced Focus and Awareness: The dive response increases alertness, redirecting your attention away from the urge and making you more present in the moment. This can be a valuable tool for self-control and regaining command over racing or impulsive thoughts related to gambling.
  3. Circuit Breaker and Distraction: During the dive response, the sudden shock of cold water can interrupt intense impulses, providing a much-needed break from intrusive thoughts and urges.
  4. Alternative Outlet: Engaging the dive reflex can serve as a healthier alternative to gambling, disrupting the urge, and redirecting your energy towards more constructive activities.

The Dive Reflex in Action

Picture this scenario: You're at home, and the urge to gamble is overwhelming. The thought of placing another bet consumes your thoughts. What do you do?

  1. Jump in the shower.
  2. Gradually turn the water to cold.
  3. Tune in and pinpoint the sensations you're experiencing. Notice your heart rate—is it slowing down?
  4. Observe your thoughts. Is your mind clearer? Is the urge as powerful as it was just a few moments ago?

A Word of Warning

When inducing the dive reflex, it's important to be aware that you may initially experience a gasping or shock response, known as the cold-water shock response. This reaction is considered normal and safe when using the methods mentioned earlier. However, immersing your entire body in extremely cold water can pose serious risks and even be life-threatening. For your safety, we strongly advise caution when experimenting with cold water techniques, and it's essential to follow the guidance of a qualified professional.

Not a Cure-All

While the dive reflex can be a valuable tool for managing strong urges, its effectiveness may vary from person to person and depending on the specific urge or impulse. It's essential to combine it with other strategies for impulse control and addiction management. For instance, after having a cold shower, consider following up with another effective strategy. This could involve reaching out to a support person, or engaging in a meaningful activity you enjoy such as going for a walk.

Key Takeaways

Managing intense urges to gamble can be challenging, but the dive reflex is a practical and science-backed tool that can improve your chances of staying in control. We can initiate the dive reflex through methods such as having a cold shower, or splashing cold water on our face.

Remember, it takes time and practice, but with persistence, you can harness the power of the dive reflex to combat those strong gambling urges, regain control and find healthier ways to cope.

You're not alone on this journey, and support is available. If you're struggling with gambling, reach out to Gamblers Help on 1800 858 858 or visit our Find Support page for more options.


An woman seated on a couch engaged in a conversation with another individual who is holding a pen

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and how can it help you with your gambling?

In this article, we delve into explaining what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is and how it can assist you in dealing with your gambling struggles.

Read article
A man with dreadlocks standing on a balcony, enjoying the view

Intrusive gambling thoughts and how to manage them

If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts about gambling, here are some strategies to help you manage these thoughts more effectively.

Read article
A woman is seated in the driver's seat of a car, holding the steering wheel, smiling confidently.

Five reasons to try quitting gambling again

What happens if you find it hard to stick with quitting, and go back to gambling? This article details five reasons why you should try again.

Read article
A young male holding and looking at his mobile phone on his right hand and a credit card on his left hand.

How to manage pay day gambling urges

When struggling with gambling, payday can be difficult. Here are a few strategies that might help to make payday easier to manage.

Read article