A new study suggests that comforting objects called safety signals can ease anxiety.
Researchers measured people’s sweat responses (a sign of fear, which is linked to anxiety) after hearing loud noises. They found that when people heard the noise in the presence of a safety signal, the reactions were weaker.
Safety signals are highly individual, notes study author Heidi Meyer, Ph.D., postdoctoral associate in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. Yours may be a photo, letter, or plant, for example—anything that you have a positive connection to and that is free of any negative associations.
Her research shows that safety signals activate the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, brain regions linked to emotional memory and behavior, in ways that may ease anxiety.
The bottom line:
To feel more relaxed at work, identify your safety signal, keep it on your desk, and look at it after anxiety-inducing events, like reading an urgent email or having a tough conversation with your boss.