Imagine your worst fear. It could be a job interview or having to give a speech. Perhaps you dislike heights and will do anything to avoid flying. It may be as simple as feeling obliged to network among a group of peers.
Your heart pounds and thoughts race. Your palms sweat and your chest feels tight. Right now, your sympathetic nervous system is doing everything it can to keep you sucked into the present moment, heightening your senses and drawing you into this specific point in time.
According to research, the best way to neutralise these feelings, and restore your composure, is to pull your mind out of the present and think about your future.
Across a series of studies, the researchers made participants think of an event which
made them distressed. They then made some of them reflect about the emotion and
whether it would continue to be a source of stress in the near future, while another group had to imagine how the emotion might impact them in the distant future.
Participants who reflected on the distant future reported less distress than the individuals who reflected on the near future. Pondering the distant future seemed to help nullify symptoms of distress.
The researchers also identified one of the mechanisms that explained these effects. They discovered that when we think about the future, our perspective improves. That is, we see the emotion as a moment in time rather than an enduring problem.
These findings are a reminder that when under times of stress, you might untangle yourself by lifting yourself out of the moment and seeing the experience as a blip on the radar of your life.