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Instantly De-Stress – The Mental Subtraction Strategy

Instantly De-Stress – The Mental Subtraction Strategy

“I want to get rid of my stress right away!”

Many people feel that way, but don’t know how to handle their struggles of daily stress. When negative emotions such as irritation and anxiety are left untreated, they can eventually lead to serious stress reactions in our bodies and minds. In some cases, it can lead to mental illnesses such as depression. As a preventative measure, it’s important to eliminate stress as soon as you feel it.

Let us introduce you to a stress care technique that’s scientifically proven to have positive effects on our mental health. It’s easy to implement. It’s called the Mental Subtraction strategy.

Imagine Your Good Memories Didn’t Exist

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The Mental Subtraction strategy is a simple practice. You imagine a positive memory, something happy or fun that you experienced, and imagine that it never happened. This helps your positive memories stand out.

The positive memory can be anything from a little happy incident to a life-changing event. If you still can’t think of anything, it can be something as basic as being alive. Here are some simple examples:

  • I passed the test.
  • I found a dollar on the ground.
  • I’m in a new budding relationship.
  • The weather was great today.

Take notice of the small happiness that occurred in your life and imagine it never happened. Repeating this exercise for 3~5 minutes a day, over the course of 2 weeks, becomes effective. Give it a try by first starting at 3 minutes a day.

The Pain of Loss Feels Greater Than Our Gains

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Mental Subtraction is effective because humans are more affected by the pain of losing something over the happiness of gaining something. Experts call this the “Loss Aversion Bias”. It’s pretty much similar to the sunk cost fallacy. As an example, when we have the options of a 90% chance of receiving $10, or a 100% chance of receiving $9, people tend to chose the latter. Both have almost the same expected value, but humans naturally want to avoid the 10% possibility of loss.

The idea behind Mental Subtraction follows this same logic. We imagine a positive event from the past, and by pretending it never happened, we feel a strong sense of sadness for its loss. This helps us recognize the importance of this positive event, creating a sense of gratitude towards the memory.

An experiment with students at the University of Virginia found that many of the subjects who practiced Mental Subtraction became more resilient to stress, and continued to maintain a positive mood even a month after the study. Although it can be difficult to get used to, Mental Subtraction can be a meaningful stress reliever for people whose negative moods tend to linger.

Coping Strategies for Mental Care

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Mental subtraction can be practiced without any special tools, so you can try it out anytime, anywhere. Give it a try the next time you feel a little down or find yourself in a negative mood.

The key to taking care of stress quickly is to have some form of stress relief on hand. Having a coping mechanism on hand, such as the Mental Subtraction strategy, keeps our mental health in check. This is just one of the many easy stress-care techniques you can try. Figure out what works for you and get into the habit of practicing. One of the keys to living a healthy and happy life is to properly cope with stress

Minkyung Koo, Sara B. Algoe, Timothy D. Wilson, and Daniel T. Gilbert
「It’s a Wonderful Life: Mentally Subtracting Positive Events Improves People’s Affective States, Contrary to Their Affective Forecasts」