How to Manage Secondhand Stress?

Everyone is aware of this ridiculous law: when you see that someone yawns next to you, you will yawn too. And yet we feel the general euphoria of the stadium during a soccer match. Or a sense of unity and freedom at a rock concert. Or a sense of sadness… The next article will tell you why we can experience similar emotions with others and whether it is good.

scream, conflict, argue

How do we feel other people’s emotions?

Over the last decade, science has learned a lot of facts confirming a close link between the brain and emotional disorders. Emotions are transmitted via the network of mirror neurons, which is part of the brain. It is due to its function that we are able to empathize with others and to understand their feelings. For the same reason, we often feel an irresistible urge to yawn when someone yawns – mirror neurons are involved.

Mirror neurons are neurons in the brain, which are excited both when performing certain actions and when seeing this action performed by someone else.

Your brain picks up the signals sent by the body of another person at the opposite end of the room saying he/she is tired. However, the brain is susceptible not only to such indicators of the state as a smile or a yawn. Apart from them, we are able to absorb negative emotions and stress from the outside as if we were passive smokers.

Howard Friedman and Ronal Riggio, researchers from the University of California, Riverside, have established that if the people next to you are worried or agitated (it can be revealed nonverbally as well), you will most likely experience the same. The activity of your brain may then be affected negatively.

Watching someone in a state of stress, especially if it is a colleague or a relative, you experience a similar effect on your nervous system. A group of independent researchers have shown that in 26% of people the level of cortisol can increase in the blood, even if they are just looking at those who experience certain emotions.

Alien stress, imposed from the outside, is much easier to get from your romantic partner (the probability is about 40%) than from a passerby. However, when viewing videos with strangers experiencing negative emotions, 24% of the viewers still showed signs of stress reaction (which, of course, makes us think twice before watching the “Breaking Bad” series before bedtime).

What is stress and how is it transmitted?

We can come across stress everywhere: in the cab with an impolite driver; in the office where your colleagues or boss grumble over trifles; or in any public place – you will agree that someone’s mood, whether good or bad, is almost always felt physically.

Heidi Hanna, a scientist at the American Institute of Stress and author of the “Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress” book, says that secondary stress can occur as a consequence of an unconscious person’s ability to detect potential threats in his/her environment.

Many of us have met people, at the sight of whom you have the strange feeling of anxiety, which comes once they appear on the doorstep. On the one hand, this may be a conditioned reflex, arising as a result of past interaction with another person. On the other hand, the cause of these reactions can be energy and information exchange occurring at the slightest change in one’s usual body biorhythms.

In fact, you do not even need to see or hear a person to become infected with stress: it will be enough just to “feel” it. Recent research in the field of “stressology” has found that the moment of stress activates special sweat glands, and other people’s olfactory organs can perceive it. The brain is even able to recognize whether the person is subject to weak or severe stress, as evidenced by “alarm pheromones” hovering in the air.

As scientists’ minds advanced deeper in the study of the issue, more and more evidence was given in favor of the conclusion: all negative emotions we receive from others are capable of affecting everything we are engaged in at the cellular level, thereby shortening our life.

In the book by Shawn Achor, a former professor of psychology at Harvard University, there is information that the Ritz-Carlton and Ochsner Health System companies, realizing how seriously the stress factor can affect the quality of medical care, introduced a new corporate law, “Forget about personal problems once you see the patient.” If the patient sees a doctor enter the room looking troubled, or at least a little excited, the tension will literally be suspended in the air. The patient will surely internalize all the supposed bad signs (they can be made up on the spot). On the contrary, the staff radiating positive attitude, are immediately associated with professional confidence or hope for a speedy recovery.

How to protect yourself from stress?

Alas, the modern world is arranged so that during the working week we are practically put on a public display. Huge office buildings of glass and concrete stretching skyward, the underground, and your favorite social networks – whether we like it or not, potential sources of stress are waiting for us everywhere.

What is stress in today’s world

It seems we need to start thinking about how to strengthen our emotional immunity. Otherwise, we run the risk to catch someone else’s spleen every time.

Here are some recommendations for self-improvement.

  • Change your perspective on the things
  • Dr. Alia Crum and Peter Salovey found: if you treat stress with a positive attitude and stop fighting it, its negative impact may be reduced to 23%.
  • Considering stress as a threat, we deprive our body and mind of the possibility to extract at least some benefit from the stressful situation. Yes, that’s right: high level of stress enhances mind flexibility, sense and perception depth, as well as awareness of life value and the importance of its priorities.

Create positive antibodies

Certain behavior can help to neutralize the negative effects of stress. For example, rather than snapping at the colleague’s irritated remark when something goes wrong, try to smile back or just nod knowingly. Now you have become a bit stronger.

Michelle Gielan, in her book, ‘Broadcasting happiness’, gives some interesting advice. Its goes as follows: find your “lever” pulling which helps you block the flow of negativity. Typically, the first phrase in a conversation determines its outcome. You might be surprised what effect the words ‘I will gladly lend you my ear’ pronounced in a calm and friendly voice over the phone can produce.

Strengthen innate resistance to stress

One of the most effective options for protection against imposed stress is self-respect. The greater it is, the better: you will feel strong enough to resist almost any problem. If you suddenly feel you’ve caught a wave of someone’s mood, which you do not need, stop the flow of thoughts and remember: you have everything in order, everything’s under control.

An excellent assistant in boosting self-respect is exercise. Whenever you achieve at least a little success in sport, the brain captures this moment and rewards you with a free portion of endorphins. Cool, you know.

Temper yourself

Not only with cold shower. In the morning, you can try and do something else:

  • Start your day with mail – not the work mail as many certainly do. Send a thank-you letter to an acquaintance. Without a reason. Just because he/she is a loyal friend or a loved colleague. Write to your mum eventually.
  • Make a list of three things for which you can thank life.
  • Write about some good experience or event from the past.
  • Do a half-hour workout.
  • Meditate for two or three minutes.

Nowadays, it is assumed that if you jog in the morning, go to the supermarket solely for spinach instead of beer, and climb to the fifth floor without being short of breath, you are healthy. However, soon time will come when health care will include delicate matters as well – feelings, emotions, soul. In fact, many around me, as far as I can see, have long been concerned about that.

And, of course, the whole thing is not only about the mood of those around you – friends and colleagues. Positive changes always start with you in the first place. Believe in your power, strengthen the body and spirit, and then you will manage everything.