Look at the Big Picture

Ease your present angst by thinking about the future.

By Meghan Pryce, published May 4, 2015 - last reviewed on June 10, 2016

Aleshyn Andrei / Shutterstock

Thinking about how the pain of breakups, rejection letters, or worse will eventually subside can make you feel better in the present, research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds, validating the old mantra, “This too shall pass.”

Researchers asked college students to think about something stressful—such as an upcoming exam, a poor course grade, or a problem with roommates—from the perspective of their future self, either one week or 10 years hence. How much would it matter to them at that point? Another group of students was instructed to reflect on the stressor in any way they found helpful. All participants then rated how the reflection exercise made them feel in the present moment.

The findings showed that simply envisioning a negative experience through the eyes of one’s distant-future self, and thus emphasizing its impermanence, was the best tactic for reducing stress—and was easy to implement, reports Emma Bruehlman-Senecal, a graduate student in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. “A broader time perspective can help people get a better handle on what’s going to be important to them in the long run,” she says, “and what type of concerns are likely to fade with the passage of time.”