Take a step back from yourself to better realize the benefits of awe

on 25 September 2018
The magic of mindfulness

We so commonly talk of stress as one thing and that perception is mostly in the negative sense of the word; what, there's a positive side to stress? There most certainly is, in a sense, it's as close to Captain America (Super Woman) as you could ever get . . .

Multiple forms of stress, multiple ways to experience it, what do we do?

Stress can be defined as Eustress (positive) and distress (negative). In eustress, we often view things as a challenge, in distress, it's a problem. In essence, the difference is defined by the intensity and duration of the stress response. In response to a real threat (losing your job), you could be motivated into taking concrete and positive steps to assure you stay employed (eustress) or, you could become engaged in a negative downward spiral of destructive thinking, in essence, bringing to life your biggest fears. Distress does more to bring about what you fear because it impairs the way your brain functions, eustress, on the other hand, makes you sharper, more responsive and capable of better decisions. Through my research and experience, I believe that is a consequence of less interference in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is believed to regulate the threat detection system. It is as stress levels rise, that stress hormones appear to take more control over the regulatory function of the prefrontal cortex. Stress hormones affect parts of the prefrontal cortex and with it, our emotions, judgments, decisions etc. The greater and longer the duration of the stress, the greater the effect!

The takeaway for me in this research is the better we learn to manage our states of relaxation, the more able we become, by default, to manage distress. When we manage our emotions, we are at the point of managing life itself. Occasionally I see people advertising to show clients the ability to lead a stress-free life. Even if that were possible, which it is not, I believe it would disarm us, make us less effective because used correctly and appropriately, stress is our friend; one day, it may save your life!

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life management methods there is. Most of the behaviours that make life challenging are a result of a lack of awareness of our own self in the process of life and the opposite is equally true. Thoughts, be they bad or good and awe covers both, are subconscious in nature. So it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the peculiarities of the subconscious mind. If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want to take your life, or your business, to the next level, then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation? Hypnosis gives us the ability to visualise our-self in both small and big versions, it's not an either-or scenario!

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research: 

Religion and nature can both lead to awe, and turning to one or the other is a common coping strategy for the stress that might accompany an upcoming presentation, exam or performance.

But an awe-inspiring experience can have negative consequences as well as benefits, according to a novel University at Buffalo-led study that uses cardiovascular responses to stress to take a broad look at awe and the critical role perspective plays when considering the effects of encountering awe.

"We found that spontaneous self-distancing predicted whether awe benefited or had a negative effect on people," explains Mark Seery, an associate professor in the UB Department of Psychology and co-author of the paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Spontaneous self-distancing refers to people's tendencies to take a distanced versus an immersed perspective when considering their own experiences, especially their own emotionally laden experiences.

To be self-immersed is to see an experience through your own eyes. It's a first-person perspective. Self-distancing, meantime, is a third-person perspective. It's like watching something as a bystander. For people who tend to self-distance, the study's findings suggest that after experiencing awe, personal obstacles associated with a stressful situation seem insignificant compared to the vastness of the awe-inspiring experience. However, those who self-immerse are more likely to see their capabilities, not their obstacles, as insignificant after awe, a perception that can make a stressor seem unmanageable.

The findings represent an important step toward understanding how people can better cope with stressful events and how popular stress management strategies, whether appealing to the sacred or sublime, depending on the underlying processes to work. We experience the emotion of awe when exposed to something larger than the self. Awe can arise from the practices of a particular faith tradition or a grand natural vista, but it does not necessarily have to be dramatic.

Most research on awe has focused on the benefits of the experience. Previous studies suggest that awe has a variety of positive effects, essentially related to feeling connected and helping others. A key mechanism of these benefits is the sense of "small self." "Creating that sense of 'small self' is to feel small relative to some awe-inspiring thing, whether it's the idea of a divinity or a natural landscape," says Seery. "I feel small, albeit connected to humanity." But to pivot from those benefits back to a performance stressor -- an activity that requires work in order to reach a goal -- is to see how that "small self" that comes from awe gets more complicated.

"We wanted to understand how that feeling of smallness affects someone facing their own stressful situation," says Seery, whose research team includes former UB undergraduate Phuong Le, UB graduate students Thomas Saltsman and Deborah Ward, and former graduate students Cheryl Kondrak and Veronica Lamarche, who currently serves as a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex.

"If I feel small, then whatever I have to deal with may seem all the more overwhelming. That was our starting point," says Seery. "And it hadn't been previously explored." To get at the question, Seery and his colleagues used the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat. This model uses cardiovascular measures to reveal psychological experience during a performance stressor, such as giving a speech.

The model allows the researchers to measure responses to stress, such as heart rate, the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute, and the flow of blood into blood vessels. This provides insight into the psychological experience without interrupting the participants. Challenge is a positive state, reflecting evaluating a stressor as manageable. It leads to dilated arteries, which help the heart pump more blood to the body. A threat response, a negative state corresponding to evaluating a stressor as unmanageable, constricts the arteries, which hinders blood flow.

The researchers had 182 participants complete a measure of spontaneous self-distancing. They were then exposed to either an awe-inducing nature video or a neutral documentary on small sea creatures and later asked to prepare and deliver a two-minute speech on a setback or obstacle they experienced.

The results showed that for people likely to adopt a self-distanced perspective, being exposed to the awe-inducing video led to a challenge-response during the following speech, relative to exposure to the neutral video. In contrast, for people who adopted a self-immersed perspective, the awe-inducing video led to a relative threat response.

"To maximally benefit from awe when facing subsequent stressors, we may need to take a step back from ourselves before we take it all in," says Seery.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University at BuffaloNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Phuong Q. Le, Thomas L. Saltsman, Mark D. Seery, Deborah E. Ward, Cheryl L. Kondrak, Veronica M. Lamarche. When a small self means manageable obstacles: Spontaneous self-distancing predicts divergent effects of awe during a subsequent performance stressorJournal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2018.07.010

Cite This Page:

University at Buffalo. "Take a step back from yourself to better realize the benefits of awe: Efficacy of popular stress management techniques depends on perspective." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 September 2018. <>.