Do Horoscopes Help Relieve Stress or Lower Anxiety?
A chaotic world encourages us to seek guidance wherever we can.
Posted Oct 26, 2018
The world and its inhabitants seem to be growing increasingly less predictable. With round-the-clock, moment-by-moment news coverage bringing images of the aftermath of mass shootings, unsafe drivers plowing into pedestrians, and road rage terror into our living room, it’s no surprise that many of us find ourselves wanting to gain a feeling of control over our lives. Belief in superstitions, the supernatural, or religion all have the power to provide a sense of order to our lives—perhaps ironically, some might say. If we can find true north by the stars, we may be able to find our path by the planets.
Rituals Provide a Sense of Familiarity
When we engage in rituals, it can be very calming and allows us to feel centered. Whether it’s the prayers you recite, the mantra you intone, the way you wash your dishes after the final meal of the day or brush your teeth or wash your face before you go to bed. The chaos of the manic and unpredictable real-world experiences can be smoothed out and order returned when you sit down in “your spot” on the sofa, turn on your favorite television show, and sink into the comfort of a chosen alternate reality. We all crave rituals for the sense of predictability and security they provide. Reading your horoscope or shuffling a deck of tarot cards may provide that same centering calm.
Decreasing Levels of Control Lead Us to Seek Control and Security
Studies show that it’s when we are feeling the least control in our lives, we are much more willing to seek security by any means – including placing our belief in astrology or other non-empirically based belief systems. Performance anxiety has been shown to be positively affected and reduced when professional athletes, including baseball players and ballerinas, engage in pre-performance rituals (Brooks et al., 2016). We take comfort in superstitions as they give us something “to hold onto” when we are entering into a situation that we cannot completely predict or control.
Researchers noted that when someone has just lost a job, had a relationship end, or is otherwise feeling unexpectedly at loose ends, they are more likely to seek causation. Apparently, if we are told that a firing or an illness or a broken heart is just a step towards a better future due to the patterns in the stars, we feel better and more hopeful about the terrible event that has befallen us.
When someone reassures us that an unfortunate event is “just a test” or something that “had to happen to allow something even better to occur” or is “just the fault of our stars,” many of us actually do feel better. It places responsibility for failure onto the cosmos and provides a sense of perspective and a rationale for having ended up as the victim of the unfortunate incident.
Millennials Rely on the Stars and the Cards of Divination
When we think of Millennials, many of us think of all the ways that they have “broken” the world that Baby Boomers created. Surveys suggest that Millennials want to re-write the rules for work, play, and relationships. However, Millennials continue to be the most stressed of any other age group, according to the APA (2017) Stress in America survey.
They may be working hard to relax some rules, but they are seriously stressed about the world in which they live. They worry about big things and small things. The economy, politics, hate crimes, war, terrorism, health, and anything else you might imagine is keeping even Millennials up at night. Yet one of the most unhelpful things we can do when stressed is watch news programs that focus on the unfortunate events that are happening in this world.
The Internet has brought us face-to-screen with 24-hour daily doses of bad news. This same Internet, though, has also popularized and made available one of the increasingly popular tools for dealing with stress and managing our fates . . . astrology forecasts and reports, online psychics, and tarot card readings. Just as older adults are willing to look beyond the traditional modes of faith and spirituality, Millennials are also exploring new ways to connect with meaningful pursuits and paths that bring a sense of personal and transpersonal harmony and fit.
According to a study from the National Science Foundation a couple of years ago, over half of Millennials believe that astrology is a branch of science. Some people, though, might believe that psychology is about as much a “science” as astrology and phrenology are. The search for meaning is a recurring theme as each generation comes of age – science advances what we empirically know, but there’s a continuing desire to have some magical thinking or supernatural possibilities to believe in, too.
Even Bad Horoscopes can Occasionally Get it Right
While most of us realize that psychics and divination card readers are usually just being very astute “people readers,” it still draws in people who are hopeful about someone helping them see something they can’t see themselves. As a counselor, the “abilities” of a purported psychic actually remind me of the skills that strong clinicians have regarding “reading” clients’ needs. When you make a living connecting with people and helping them find solutions to their problems, your skills of reading non-verbal communication and hearing what is “not being said” grow very strong. Readers and therapists also recognize the truth that people have more in common with each other than some might realize. Most of us are going to struggle with relationships, financial decisions, job choices, and so on.
It’s Not the Event, It Is How We Feel About the Event That Matters
When our search for happiness in life is thwarted, it is often the worry and anxiety caused by the roadblock that plague us and generate uneasiness, sometimes more so than the consequences of the event itself. An unquiet mind can keep us from bouncing back from a setback or making a comeback. Many people feel the need to place blame somewhere when something untoward happens. By making sense of “why” something happened, some feel more empowered and, ironically, more in control of their own destiny. If we can blame Mercury’s retrograde movement for failing to convince our boss that we deserve a raise, then we are bolstered to believe that once Mercury gets back on track, we can try again to communicate our needs more effectively.
We’re all looking for meaning in life, validation of our choices, and assurance that the sun will shine and our quests for happiness will eventually be successful. Some Millennials will seek answers in the stars, in the divination cards, and, even more surprisingly, from their elders. It’s all a matter of personal preference.
Brooks, A. W., Schroeder, J., Risen, J. L., … & Schweitzer, M. E. (2016). Don’t stop believing: Rituals improve performance by decreasing anxiety. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 137, 71-85.
American Psychological Association (2017). Stress in America: The State of Our Nation. Stress in AmericaTM Survey.
Vyse, Stuart. 2014. Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition—Updated Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.