How to stress less: take a trip down memory lane

Reminiscing about positive memories buffers acute stress responses, according to new research from the US. 

Thinking about the good ol’ days helps you feel better and cope with stress, according to a new study from the US.

The study, published in Springer Nature and led by researchers at Rutgers University, USA, had participants asked to think about memories from their past in the midst of a stressful controlled task. It showed that good memories reduced the amount of the stress hormone cortisol, and those participants showed greater activity in brain regions previously associated with emotion regulation.

However, recalling neutral memories left participants stressed. 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.

The study explains that “recalling happy memories elicits positive feelings and enhances one’s wellbeing, suggesting a potential adaptive function in using this strategy for coping with stress. In two studies, we explored whether recalling autobiographical memories that have a positive content—that is, remembering the good times—can dampen the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis stress response.”

The findings conclude and highlight the restorative and protective function of self-generated positive emotions via memory recall in the face of stress.

So next time you’re feeling stressed, take a minute to think and channel your happiest memories and you’ll soon feel better.

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