Carina Black: Plunging in for the team: Impacting physiology for professional performance (Voices)

Dr. Carina Black

Dr. Carina Black

The Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC) has the great honor of playing host to a specially-selected group of sub-Saharan African professionals for six weeks each year as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program for the U.S. Department of State Young African Leaders Initiative.

Each year, the NNIC team works to give these inspirational professionals insights in their respective industries and fields of interest by introducing them to Northern Nevada companies and professionals to mentor them as they seek to evolve their own projects and pursuits. They take home with them indelible fingerprints of the Biggest Little City that have caused impressive ripple effects in their home countries.

This year, on the heels of Wim Hof rumblings and a plethora of cold plunge data, we invited Trybe Summits to work with the Mandela Washington Fellows, exploring how cold water improves our body and mental performance. In the picturesque, frigid Tahoe setting, I quickly realized the cold plunge exercise and narrative in particular could be beneficial for the NNIC staff and booked Trybe Summits for our staff retreat Sept. 13 at Donner Lake.

I have to admit I was personally changed by this and now make it a habit to plunge myself in the Truckee at least once a day. But it’s also been beneficial for our staff (and MWF Fellows) in the following ways:

Adding another tool in the mental health toolbox. As the country grapples with sharp increases in mental health needs and crises, it’s powerful to give individuals another tool for maintaining their mental health. It’s not a replacement for all other tools, but certainly something that individuals can try. More research is needed, but some studies suggest cold immersion can reduce anxiety and depression and augment well-being.

Improved stress response. According to information published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, cold water immersion can positively impact our body’s ability to regulate stress. The extreme temperature of the water helps your body better separate physical stressors from mental stressors by reacquainting it with physical discomfort. In short, it builds resilience. Our team manages multiple projects every year and, in particular, each summer – when we could be managing anywhere between one to four international exchange programs with hundreds of international visitors placed in our care. Methods for improving the stress response certainly impacts outcomes from NNIC.

Our organization works to build bridges of understanding while fostering global engagement through refugee resettlement, international exchanges and language access. Our team is often juggling multiple directives from the U.S. Department of State and from U.S. embassies across the globe, while working directly with global partners to curate experiences and cultivate relationships. In short, there is a lot to manage.

Many of our team members were skeptical of the cold immersion activities – but in watching the Mandela Washington Fellows, I knew that what awaited our team upon exiting the water was a host of benefits. I’ve heard from both Fellow and staff members now that they felt a jolt of clarity immediately after their time in the cold. Many of them continue to plunge – or immerse in cold, even if it’s in the shower. And it has helped them to mitigate and reduce pain from head and body aches, while also giving them a tiny bit of a calmer outlook on the day ahead.

I know we’re entering the cold season, but this could be another tool your team could leverage. I know it’s certainly helped ours!

Dr. Carina Black is executive director of Northern Nevada International Center.


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