Stress Can be Contagious

Shield Yourself from Secondhand Stress

When talking to a friend about problems in his/her life, have you felt your stress level increasing? This is a common example of second-hand stress. It is a relatively common phenomenon that very few of us know about.

If your boss is feeling stressed and hurries you along in every conversation, you are likely to get affected by their stress and leave you feeling drained at the end of each workday. Stress can even travel across the office floor, crossing cubicles through non-verbal cues. So the next time you talk to a co-worker agitated about something or a friend complaining about relationships or finances, be mindful that their increased stress levels could affect your emotions as well.

Second-hand stress also breeds on familiarity. An overstressed best friend or life partner can be harder to handle than a little-known colleague or acquaintance who is stressed out.

What produces second-hand stress?

Second-hand stress is caused by a combination of empathy and mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are the cells in your brain that produce empathetic responses to the behaviours we witness. Have you ever coughed or yawned because someone around you did the same or felt pain when watching someone else get injured? This kind of behaviour is the work of mirror neurons!

While being empathetic is good, sometimes it can be detrimental to our mental health, as an overdose of other people’s negativity can leave us exhausted as well as cause many stress-related issues.

Check yourself for second-hand stress

Anxiety, depression, weight fluctuations, increase or decrease in appetite, skin allergies, mood swings are some of the common symptoms of stress. If you have diagnosed yourself with these symptoms, but are not able to determine the exact cause, there is a very good chance that it is second-hand.

How to deal with second-hand stress

One of the best ways to deal with any kind of stress, is creating a positive mindset and accept it as something that makes you stronger. Here are a few things to note when trying to deal with second-hand stress.

  • Try to direct conversations towards solutions rather than problems
  • Stop obsessing over other people’s problems
  • Controlling your own stress levels makes you less vulnerable to second-hand stress
  • Surround yourself with positive people who make you feel rejuvenated and relaxed
  • Articulate positive words. Choose your words carefully to produce oxytocin, the “feel-good” hormone that enhances social bonding while improving optimism and self esteem

It is impossible to avoid secondhand stress completely. As inherently social animals living in a modern interconnected world, we are always bound to run into stressed out people. Just find the right balance between showing empathy and staying positive.



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