Mental Health

Stress relief: use this simple practice to reduce anxiety in the moment

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Lauren Geall
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A woman looking at the sky in awe

Looking for a quick and easy way to relieve stress and reduce anxiety? According to a new study, practising ‘awe’ could be the answer.

As much as we’d love to be chilled out all the time, dealing with stress is an inevitable part of life.

We may deal with it more often in the modern world thanks to our ‘always on’ culture, but stress has always been a part of the human experience – not only does it help us to navigate danger (by triggering our ‘fight or flight’ response), but in some cases, it’s actually good for us.

All of this to say that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just when it starts to build up that it poses a threat to our mental and physical health

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Because of this, we’re always interested in finding out about new ways to cope with and relieve stress. Different methods will work for different people – some people might find that completing a puzzle or getting creative helps, while others may prefer to engage in exercise or practice meditation – so trying out a variety of different stress-busting activities is the best way to build a tool kit which works for you.

With this in mind, we were intrigued to hear about a new study into the stress-relieving abilities of ‘awe’, and how the benefits can be achieved simply by practising a quick, easy exercise. 

The research, conducted by scientists at UC Berkeley and Northbay Hospital, found that conjuring a sense of awe – a feeling akin to wonder or surprise – can help us to feel a sense of timelessness and be more mindful, which in turn can reduce feelings such as stress, loneliness, anxiety and depression.

A woman hugging her dog
To practise ‘awe’, begin by taking a moment to focus on something small that you appreciate or value, such as stroking a pet.

To find out more about the impact of awe, the scientists devised an intervention to help people feel the emotion on a daily basis. As Alison Escalante reports in Psychology Today, the ‘awe method’ doesn’t require any additional tools or understanding to complete – all you need to do is sit back and “turn your full and undivided attention on things you appreciate, value or find amazing,” pause for a full breath and then “exhale and expand” which will help you to amplify any emotions you’re feeling. 

Basically, the ‘awe method’ is all about taking a moment to pause and appreciate the magic in the little things – Escalante suggests staring at your hands and thinking about all the things they can do, but you can also do it with any other objects or sights you appreciate, such as the movement of trees in the breeze or the feeling of your pet’s fur as you stroke them. 

At the end of the day, it’s about finding what works for you. To find out more about the practice (and the different ways it can be used in your everyday life), check out this article written by the study’s authors.

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It may sound a little silly at first (especially if you’re struggling to conjure a feeling of awe in the first place) but persevering with the practice could bring about unexpected results. Indeed, for the participants in the study – who were asked to use the intervention for 10-15 seconds three to five times a day – the results were conclusive: after 21 days, they reported “statistically significant” improvements in stress, loneliness and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

So next time you’re feeling a little stressed out or overwhelmed, try to turn your attention towards the small things. Taking a moment to recognise the magic in the everyday may sound cheesy, but it could offer real benefits – the best way to find out is to give it a go.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.