Feeling more irritable than usual? According to a new study on Science Daily, your inability to control your emotions may be due to mild stress.

Neuroscientists from New York University based their conclusion on a two-day experiment involving fear and common stress. At first, the participants were conditioned to feel fear by being shown photos of spiders. After the session, the participants were given tips on how to manage their fears.

On the second day, the researchers divided the subjects into two groups: one acted as a control and another acted as the stress group. Members of the stress group were asked to put their hands into icy water for a few minutes, while members of the control group had their hands in lukewarm water.

When shown the stress-inducing photos from the day before, the control group managed to use the tips they were taught and showed diminished fear response. However, the stress group still maintained increased fear levels, showing that they weren’t able to utilize the techniques taught to them.

"The use of cognitive techniques to control fear has previously been shown to rely on regions of the prefrontal cortex that are known to be functionally impaired by mild stress. These findings are consistent with the suggestion that the effect of mild stress on the prefrontal cortex may result in a diminished ability to use previously learned techniques to control fear," says senior author Elizabeth Phelps.

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This goes to show that it pays to take a break. Give yourself time away from stressful situations to take a breather. When you get back, you’ll find that you’re more mentally alert and emotionally prepared to take care of issues at hand.

(Photo by Alex Bellink via Flickr Creative Commons)

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