Stressing out is a natural reaction a person has towards a difficult situation. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no class act when it comes to sweating the small stuff. When life gives me lemons I don’t always think to add the sugar right away. After the fact I’ll reflect on God, pray and ask for patience in accepting mistakes and shortcomings. But maybe I’ve got the order wrong. According to a study by the University of Toronto, I should be thinking about God before, as opposed to after the fact.
University of Toronto Researchers Micahel Inzlicht and Alexa Tullet found that those who believe in and reflect on God, deal with stress and anxiety more easily in strenuous situations.
The study tested individuals to determine if thinking about religion would reduce their reaction to making mistakes. Test subjects were first asked to think about religion by writing about God. They then had to complete a word scramble with religiously themed words. After this they were given a tricky computerized test. The researchers monitored the subjects’ brain reactions when they made mistakes on the test.
The test found that believers experienced less distress when making an error. It also found that it didn’t matter what religious denomination the person belonged to. All that mattered was that they were reflecting on their belief and religion while taking the test. One researcher said that these small differences in brain pattern can lead to a calmer lifestyle. And God doesn’t even have to be the first thing on your mind, the result is achieved as long as you have experienced some form of reflection on your faith and spirituality. The researchers use the example of a person walking by a Church on the way to their bus stop. Dr. Inzlicht says:
Admiring (the) church en route could prime the religious thoughts that will take the sting out of noticing the bus has passed by.
Interestingly enough, the test found the result was the opposite for subjects who did not believe in God or practice a form of organized religion. Non-believers demonstrated a heightened form of neural distress when they were made to contemplate God and then take the tricky test. The distress reactions only last mere milliseconds after making an error, but researchers say that they can add up over the course of a lifetime.
While avoiding stress may be a positive thing, the researchers say it is also important to remember that a little anxiety is a good thing. The anxiety we experience after making a mistake will in theory, help prevent us from making it again in the future. While I’m relieved that my anxiety is teaching me something, I will be giving this test a try before my mad dash to the train this evening. Try it too and see what happens.
If you’d like to learn more; the article on this study can be found in the latest edition of Psychological Science.
Photo: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec