A Novel Way To Reduce Stress

Did you ever wish you were someone else?  There is new evidence that such wishes may be the key to reducing stress in your life.

An article “To De-stress, Try Talking About Yourself in the Third Person” by Breena Kerr reports on some new research into this area.

In a study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, the simple act of talking about yourself as if you’re someone else may be a good way to stop stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions.   Study co-author Jason Moser, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State, says it’s a way to get what’s called psychological distance.  “By using your own name, and possibly also second-person pronouns, it creates this little separation from the self.  It makes you think about your feelings and thoughts like you’re looking at somebody else’s experience.”  It’s also easy:  Simply say “you,” he,” or “she,” instead of “I”.

You may be realizing some celebrities already use this technique.  For example, in an interview with Jon Stewart, women’s-rights activist Malala Yousafzai spoke about when she learned her name was on a Taliban hit list.  She was afraid, but but then thought about what she would do if confronted: “I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do, Malala?’ … Then I would reply [to] myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’”

According to Kerr’s article,

… Moser and his colleagues ran two different experiments that measured what happens in the brain when people talk to themselves in the first person (using “me” or “I”) compared to when they use other pronouns or their own name.

In the first experiment, which focused on in-the-moment stressful stimuli, participants viewed stock photos and videos from violent, upsetting news stories or films. Afterward, they were asked to silently reflect on what they saw, first using “I” to work through their feelings (“I was scared”) and then using third-person pronouns (“Jason was scared”). When people used their own name in self-talk, the researchers found, the areas of the brain linked to emotions showed much less activity than when they used the first person. “They were experiencing less of an intense emotional reaction … (and) less negative emotion in the moment,” Moser said.

In the second study, which focused more on emotionally charged memories, the researchers asked participants to talk about an emotional event in their life, half the time recalling it in a straightforward way (“I got in a fight”) and the other half of the time positioning the event as part of a third-person narrative featuring their own name (“Jason got in a fight”).  In a result similar to the previous experiment, Moser said, “We found that we saw reductions in the self-referential, emotional brain regions — the ones that light up when you experience an emotion that is relevant to you.”

Moser, who’s also a clinical psychologist and has worked with veterans suffering from PTSD, said he’s most excited to see the third-person technique incorporated into conventional therapy.  He believes it could enhance traditional methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy that ask people to face their fears by recalling a traumatic event and reinterpreting what happened.  Those methods, Moser noted, are often psychologically taxing; third-person self-talk can be an easier way to reach the same result.

“All of those other methods involve difficult tasks of interpretation,” he said.  “(This) is something that’s easy and could be just as effective, [and] could provide the distance necessary to face the anxiety more effectively, with more distance and perspective.”

So the next time you are stressed, try thinking about yourself in the third person, as if you were someone else.  It just might help you make better decisions.

The complete article can be found at  https://www.thecut.com/2017/08/to-de-stress-try-talking-about-yourself-in-the-third-person.html?.  The photo came from the article.

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