When something gets you stressed out—like sitting in traffic, trying to get to an important meeting on time—have you ever noticed that you start to think of all the other things weighing on you? Before you know it, there’s a domino effect of negative thoughts, all telling you how bad your day is going to be, because your body’s stress response actually compromises the part of your brain that handles your emotions.
According to a new study published in Nature Human Behavior, however, there’s an easy fix to reverse that—researchers found that the simple act of recalling happy memories physically reduces nerve-wracking feelings instantly. Talk about the power of positive thinking.
The simple act of recalling happy memories physically reduces nerve-wracking feelings instantly.
To measure this, 134 healthy adult volunteers at Rutgers University immersed their hands in ice-cold water—then some were told to think about a fond memory, and others a neutral one (like packing for a trip), while researchers scanned their brains using fMRI machines, the British Psychological Society Research Digest reports.
Those who thought about great times in the past felt better and had 15 percent lower levels of cortisol in their body. Plus, researchers observed that they had an increase in activity in the prefrontal cortex, which deals with emotional regulation—AKA the same section that gets disabled in times of stress.
It seems that remembering that one time when you got a standing ovation (or finally nailed crow pose) can go a long way toward “dampening the physiological stress response,” the researchers concluded. (Is this a scientific case for daydreaming, then? Score.)
So next time you’re hounded by an influx of stressors, close your eyes and summon up the scenes from your last vacay—it just might transport your body to that time on the beach with a pina colada in hand, to make you feel much better.
For more inspo on staying calm, Sophia Bush does these 3 simple things every day to eliminate stress. And this is what happened when an editor tried self-hypnosis to gain control of stress.