Shedding Light in the Darkness

Reminiscing About Positive Memories Buffers Acute Stress Responses

Happy-HandsAccording to a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour, you can mitigate stress and reduce cortisol levels by reminiscing about a positive experiences, thinking back over good times.

Mauricio Delgado and Megan Speer at Rutgers University, US, made 134 volunteers feel stressed by videoing them while they plunged their hands into icy water. Some then spent 14 seconds reminiscing about a positive experience (like visiting Disneyland) while others reflected on an emotionally neutral event (such as getting luggage ready for the trip).

Afterwards, the group who’d recalled happy memories felt better, but not only that: the expected rise in their levels of the stress hormone cortisol was only 15 per cent, on average, of the surge observed in the neutral memory group. Thinking about happy memories, then, went right to the heart of the physiological stress response.

In another sample group the researchers scanned their brains and found that recollecting good, but not neutral, memories was associated with increased activity in prefrontal brain regions associated with emotion regulation and cognitive control – the same regions suppressed by acute stress – as well as in corticostriatal regions associated with the processing of reward.

“Engagement of cortical regions previously linked to emotion regulatory functions may be significant for enhancing or sustaining pleasant feelings during positive reminiscence, thus dampening the physiological stress response,” the researchers concluded.

The authors also noted that people who identified with being resilient got the biggest mood boost, despite the stressful situation. Rather than trying to suppress or reinterpret a stressful situation, the authors believe that pleasant thoughts could be a useful, proactive way to reduce stress.




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