When you feel anxious, the only thing on your mind is whatever is stressing you out. But there may be a way to push those feelings aside, according to new research published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

Researchers found when people viewed pictures of others being loved or cared for, their brains' threat response became muted. That's key, because threatening situations are what send our moods into overdrive. When study participants looked at threatening facial expressions, or words that would normally cause a strong response, after viewing the soothing images, the researchers determined the latter pictures had a calming effect. 

Here's how: Functional resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to measure the brain's responses. Results showed those who were especially anxious fared better after viewing the images (i.e., showed a milder response in the amygdala, the part of the brain that helps process emotions), just as the images helped those who weren't even paying attention to them. 

Previous studies have shown viewing pictures of being loved and cared for can alleviate feelings of pain. The new research builds on that finding, proving pictures of love and support can be useful.

In fact, a number of mental health patients, especially those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), respond well when they have lots of support. As a result, "we are building on these findings to refine existing treatments to boost feelings of being safe and supported in order to improve coping with traumatic memories," said Dr. Anke Karl, one of the authors, wrote of the study.

Next time you find yourself frazzled, whip out your phone to browse some family photos.  

Published on: Nov 12, 2014