Researchers watched brain activity as people saw disturbing images or remembered painful events from their past, finding that those whose internal monologues referred to themselves in the third person reacted less emotionally than those who thought in the first person. G.L. Kohuth

Talking to yourself in the third person when you’re under stress might help you better control your emotions and anxiety level, according to new research.

Scientists are saying that simply switching from using “I” and “me” in our inner monologues to using our own names while reflecting on our thoughts and feelings could make us less emotional without a lot of effort, making the method an easy way to reduce stress.

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People participating in a study were asked to look at images that would disgust or disturb them or to think about negative memories while reflecting on themselves in the first person or third person — the first group using “I” to refer to themselves and the others using their own names. For example, the former participants were called upon to ask, “what am I feeling right now?” as compared to “what is [Participant’s Name] feeling right now?” a study in the journal Scientific Reports explained.

One image that might be disturbing in nature, enough to cause an emotional reaction, is one of another person holding them at gunpoint, Michigan State University said in a statement about the research.

The team measured brain activity during the experiments and found that the people referring to themselves in the third person reacted less emotionally immediately after seeing those negative images or remembering those negative memories — without the subjects having to consciously control their emotions on a cognitive level.

“We all have an internal monologue that we engage in from time to time; an inner voice that guides our moment-to-moment reflections,” the authors say. It’s called self-talk, and it can help a person control their thoughts and emotions: “The language they use to refer to the self when they engage in this process influences self-control” while under stress.

This study suggests that using the first person or the third person is one language choice that is involved in that mechanism.

“Together, these results suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of self-control,” the study says. “Third-person self-talk leads people to think about the self similar to how they think about others, which provides them with the psychological distance needed to facilitate self control.”

Reflecting upon their feelings in the third person did not take much effort as compared to reflecting upon their feelings in the first person, according to the university. That gives it an edge over other methods for stress management and controlling one’s emotions, like mindfulness meditation.

With mindfulness, people experiencing anxiety or other negative feelings refocus their senses to be more aware of their surroundings. Some ways to do this could include counting the number of colors in their immediate field of vision or running their fingers along multiple different textures and concentrating on how they feel.

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Self-talk in the third person might turn out to be a more accessible method of stabilizing emotions during a stressful situation: The simplicity of the change — from thinking in the first person to thinking in the third person — means it could be an easy tool at people’s disposal when they are trying to manage stress in their everyday lives.

“If this ends up being true — we won’t know until more research is done — there are lots of important implications these findings have for our basic understanding of how self-control works, and for how to help people control their emotions in daily life,” researcher Ethan Kross said in the statement.