Not Into Meditation? Filling Yourself With Awe May Bring Relaxation Amid Uncertain Moments

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Waiting to hear back regarding medical results or a big final exam in school can be especially stressful and anxiety inducing. For many people, it’s the sense that the situation is now completely out of their hands that leads to so much worry, and many find that traditional relaxation techniques just don’t provide any relief. If you’re prone to excessive worry in these situations, you may be interested to hear that a new study out of the University of California, Riverside finds that the best way to relax while waiting to receive news is to reach a state of awe or wonderment.

Kate Sweeney, a professor of psychology at UC Riverside, had already conducted research that found meditation and “flow”-based activities that require a great deal of focus, such as video games, can provide relief from worry during difficult waiting periods.

“However, meditation is not for everyone, and it can be difficult to achieve a state of flow when worry is raging out of control,” Sweeney explains in a statement.

According to her latest study, attaining a sense of awe or wonderment through deeply touching music or an especially resonant film may just be the best way to get some relaxation while waiting to hear some big news.

To come to their conclusions, researchers analyzed the results of two experiments consisting of 729 participants. For the first experiment, participants took a fake IQ test, and in the second experiment participants were told to wait for feedback on how other people perceived them.

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Across, both experiments, while participants waited to receive their “results,” they watched one of three different movies meant to bring about certain levels of awe. The first film, meant to induce awe, was a high definition movie of a sunrise set to instrumental music. The second film, meant to promote happiness but not necessarily awe, consisted of footage of cute animals. Finally, the third film, meant as a neutral control, was about how padlocks are made.

Participants who watched the awe-inspiring sunset video exhibited much more positive emotions and less anxiety while waiting to get their results, across both experiments.

“Our research shows that watching even a short video that makes you feel awe can make waiting easier, boosting positive emotions that can counteract stress in those moments,” Sweeny says.

Researchers say they hope to use their findings to create real world strategies and methods of anxiety relief for people waiting on important news. Surprisingly, awe is a feeling that hasn’t been analyzed very deeply by psychologists, so this is the first study of its kind to find that awe and wonder can have a positive effect on stressful waiting periods.

The study is published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.

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