Everybody gets stressed — in America alone, $30 billion is lost a year to work days taken off because people feel overwhelmed. But there’s a way to handle stress that only takes you 14 seconds.

While there are lots of approaches to managing stress, they tend to require training (like mindfulness meditation) or dedicated, set-aside time (like running). But according to a new study out of Rutgers University, all you need is a handful of happy memories.

In their first experiment, researchers Mauricio Delgado and Megan Speer asked 134 participants to plunge their hands into icy water. Then, one group spent 14 seconds recalling an emotionally neutral experience — like packing for a trip — while the other recalled a positive experience — like visiting Disneyland.

The positive reminiscence group not only felt better after their freezing ice bath, but they also had just 15 percent of the spike in cortisol, a hormone the body releases when perceiving stress, that the control group had.

A follow-up brain imaging experiment helped reveal why this is. The researchers found that recalling happy memories was associated with greater activity in the prefrontal regions of the brain. These are areas that are also active when people control their attention and reappraise their emotional states, a process that research indicates can help people handle stress without developing depression. While this is just one study, it’s a promising — and clever — indicator that your memories don’t just form a mental scrapbook; they’re tools you can use to become more resilient.

The study was published in Nature Human Behavior and highlighted by BPS Research Digest.


  • DRAKE BAER is a deputy editor at Business Insider, where he leads a team of 20+ journalists in covering the shifting nature of organizations, wealth, and demographics in the United States. He has been a senior writer at New York Magazine, a contributing writer at Fast Company, and the director of content for a human resources consultancy. A speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and other conferences, he circumnavigated the globe before turning 25. Perception is his second book.