Learn how to “self-distance” to reduce stress

Self-distancing refers to our ability to view our own experiences from an outsider’s perspective. For example, you might try to look at your situation as if you were “a fly on the wall” or as if you were someone else who is witnessing the event from afar.

The ability to think about your experiences from a more detached point of view, rather than an immersed point of view, keeps you from getting overly invested in your negative emotions. Self-distancing also makes us less likely to recount the unpleasant details of the event, and as a result we don’t feel quite as bad when bad things happen.


First, recall a recent stressful conflict you had with another person. Be sure to choose something very specific. For example, recall when “You got into a fight with John about not showing up on time for the movie last Saturday.” Try not to think about fights with John in general. Now re-imagine the stressful event from an outside observer’s point of view — for example from the point of view of a friend or a stranger on the street. Ask yourself these questions to practice self-distancing.

Would the observer be able to understand why you are upset?
Would the observer be able to see the other person’s point of view?
How would the observer evaluate the situation?

Think or write about your conflict from an outside observer’s perspective to reduce your negative emotions.

Use Facebook to practice this skill

Next time you are reading about one of your friend’s negative experiences on Facebook, practice switching back and forth from a self-distanced and self-immersed perspective. See how thinking about their event from an outside perspective feels a lot less intense than thinking about the event as if it were happening to you.

​And next time you are in the midst of a stressful situation, try to look at the situation from a distance.

Originally published at www.berkeleywellbeing.com.