We’ve all been there before. You’ve had a long stressful day at work battling with the project manager. Then, you come home to find that your partner forgot to pick up the case of wine for your dinner party tomorrow. Your irritation and stress level is through the roof. Normally, your knee jerk reaction would be to scream at your partner. Next, you unleash such fiery fury that one of you would wind up sleeping on the sofa later that night. Except, according to a new study published in Nature Human Behavior, you should try another (friendlier) method to reduce stress. Instead, think happy thoughts like memories of prancing through Disneyland. Yes, literally, think Mickey, Minnie, and even Goofy.
14 Seconds of Bliss
In this new study out of Rutgers University, researchers Mauricio Delgado and Megan Speer asked 134 adults to participate in the experiment. Captured on video, these volunteers submerged their hands into icy water. Afterwards, for 14 seconds some of the subjects were told to think about a positive memory (yes, prancing around Disneyland). Others were asked to ponder a neutral topic (such as packing bags for a quick getaway).
What happened next is remarkable. It seems that the group who visualized a happy memory not only felt better, but also the surge of their cortisol levels were only 15% of what the other neutral group had. Cortisol is the hormone released when your body feels stress.
More Stress Reducing Science
Researchers Delgado and Speer followed up the experiment with another new group of volunteers. They used the same icy stress-causing agent and memory recalling techniques. This time, they scanned their brains using fMRI while the two groups thought happy or neutral memories.
Delgado and Speer found that thinking back to the good times showed increased activity in the prefrontal areas of the brain. These regions of the brain are associated with regulating emotion (stress) and cognitive control. According to the researchers, “Recalling happy memories elicits positive feelings and enhances one’s wellbeing, suggesting a potential adaptive function in using this strategy for coping with stress.”
Next time you fight with your loved one or square off with a difficult co-worker, think happy gleeful thoughts of the time you rode that Disneyland Dumbo ride five times in a row. You weren’t six years old, it was two months ago when you were celebrating your 31st birthday. Whatever memories make you feel good, store them up for the times when you need to relieve a little stress. Science tells you to!