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This Quick Trick Shuts Down Stress In The Moment, Science Says

There’s something to be said for cultivating focus on the present moment. But sometimes, you might want to channel the past to get to your happy place. And sometimes, the present moment is actually the last place you want to be. That’s when projecting yourself into the future might come in handy, according to a new study out of Royal Holloway, University of London.

The authors of the study, which was published recently in the journal Cognition and Emotion, began with the premise that “distancing” yourself from a situation is a highly effective way of calming your emotions. You might imagine that something is happening far away, happening to someone else, or happening in the past or future. The study authors knew that this last method (also called “temporal distancing”) has shown promise as a way of coping. But they wanted to delve further, specifically, exploring whether youth—and specifically, being a teen or new adult—could limit the effectiveness.

As it turned out, “telling young people to picture themselves far into the future,” is an effective way for them to cope with adversity. “Much like an adult in a traffic jam, or being forced to sit through a meeting they’d rather not be in, imagining a point after the situation is over can be an effective stress reliever,” Catherine Sebastian, PhD, one of the study authors, told Science Daily. It didn’t matter that they may have less experience with stressful situations or less of an idea of what the future looks like. “When you ask teens to think about an issue in the long term, they are more than capable of looking at a problem in context—as a small part of their lives.”

For the study, the researchers asked 83 young people between the ages of 12 and 22 to think about specific scenarios from a distant future perspective, a near-future perspective, or without reference to the perspective in time. When the scenario was negative (such as failing an exam) as opposed to neutral (thinking about a room being painted), those who projected further ahead in time reported the greatest reduction in distress (and showed some objective, albeit not statistically significant, physical signs too). The further into the future they were able to project themselves, the more they reduced their distress.

Thinking that things are going to be better, or at least different, in the future is very helpful when dealing with stress, agrees American psychotherapist and Editor-At-Large of Live Happy, Stacy Kaiser. “I always tell my clients to remind themselves that this too shall pass.” Other affirmations that Kaiser finds are helpful to her clients include “I’ll be OK” and “I’ll get through this.” One need not have already had the experience of getting through a situation to project oneself into a time and place when we’ll be OK, Kaiser adds. “It’s enough that we relax and trust that we will.”

In addition to reminding yourself that “this too shall pass,” here are some other surefire ways to help you deal shut down your stress.

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