If you tend to experience anxiety on a regular basis, you might want to add a book of brain teasers to your tote. According to a new study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, problem solving can help lower anxious feelings. (You knew your sudoku habit wasn’t pointless.)
Researchers at Duke University monitored participants’ brain activity while they completed math problems. (They were easy ones, not complicated trigonometry, which would surely give this study a whole other outcome.) They found that solving problems feels like a reward, which in turn can help combat negative feelings.
“These findings help reinforce a strategy whereby individuals may be able to improve their emotional functioning—their mood, their anxiety, their experience of depression—not only by directly addressing those phenomena, but also by indirectly improving their general cognitive functioning,” the study’s lead co-author tells Forbes. In other words: Yes, you still have to get to the root of your mental health issues, but problem solving is a good in-the-moment exercise.
So before your next date, presentation, flight, or any other situation where you’re likely to feel a little on edge, dab on some essential oil and work on some brain puzzles. It just might be enough to calm you in the moment.