Is stress contagious?

I read such an interesting article in Psychologies that I had to share with you all! You know I love really getting deep into the psychology of success and entrepreneurship.

Recent research has shown that stress could be contagious. I found this so interesting, especially because I do tend to ‘take on’ the emotions of others and have recently begun being really mindful around this and the impact it has on my energy.

In our brains we have mirror neurons. These are pretty incredible cells. They fire every time we perform an action, but also every time we see someone else perform that action. As the American Psychological Association put it…”You’re walking through a park when out of nowhere, the man in front of you gets smacked by an errant Frisbee. Automatically, you recoil in sympathy. Or you’re watching a race, and you feel your own heart racing with excitement as the runners vie to cross the finish line first. Or you see a woman sniff some unfamiliar food and wrinkle her nose in disgust. Suddenly, your own stomach turns at the thought of the meal.”

It is mirror neurons that cause us to do this. So how do they play a part in stress?

Research into this topic found that from a sample of people, 26% of them showed elevated stress hormone levels when seeing someone else stressed. Although the reaction was far stronger when that someone was a romantic partner, it was still strong when that person was a complete stranger.

This could mean that some of the stress you are carrying is just a result of the stress you are seeing in other people.

As a coach, this is incredibly illuminating research. When working with a client it is now even more important not to take on any stress they bring to a call, because it may be affecting you more than you think.

Be sure to limit the time you spend with highly stressed people in order to protect yourself. Often, if I spent time with people who are very stressed, I come home feeling like there is so much to stress about when in reality, I have actually got my own shit together!

The article suggests creating a positive mindset around stress in order to limit the impact of those pesky mirror neurons. Don’t get frustrated at them, see it as a challenge to help them. If you are working with stressed clients or customers, be sure to recognise that it is THEIR stress and not yours to burden yourself with. Help them to create their own plan to move away from negative stress.

Also, take the opportunity to reflect on your own life and how you can minimise stress for yourself.


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