6 Useful Tips to Deal with Contagious Anxiety and Stress
Most people don’t realize that anxiety and stress can affect us just like highly contagious viral diseases such as Ebola, and even the more everyday ones like Influenza (common flu). When people let their troubles show on the outside, they multiply by becoming other people’s problems too.
Several psychology studies have shown that our emotional states, often caused by psychological reflexes and physical ones like yawning, could be similarly infectious. Depending on who we spend time hanging around or live with, we tend to catch on from their positive emotions such as happiness or their negative ones like depression or stress.
I personally know this struggle all too well, I’ve had many instances where I’ve found myself suddenly anxious after personal contact with someone else and yet I had not clue what was stressing me out exactly. What I’ve learned is the importance of staying conscious of other people’s emotive states so as not to fall prey to secondhand anxiety or emotional stress. Because even when the cause has no direct effect on you, it can really end up weighing you down.
Some of the effects of high levels of anxiety could range from insomnia to high blood pressure, and because I value my health and am sure you do too, I try to self-check to ensure I’m doing my bit to stay calm always. Occasionally, you’d get advice that says you should avoid friendships I relationships where the other person’s always oozing anxiety.
For me, this tactic seems quite drastic, as there's always going to be someone in your life at every point, who is stressed or anxious. And in most cases, you might need to work with them (colleagues) or even live with them (partner).
The best way around secondhand stress and anxiety would be inoculating yourself against worry issues and anxiety from external sources. In addition, to really protect yourself you may need to help the person address their own emotions by confronting them about it coolly, because anxiety and stress can be transferred unconsciously even with barriers up.
So, you want to know how best to deal with contagious anxiety and stress? Read these 6 tips to help make yourself more immune:
Tips to Protect Yourself from Contagious Anxiety and Stress
1. Control Communication Channels
If you can take charge of how and when people are able to communicate with you, it gives you the advantage over getting stressed out over other people’s problems. Establish clear rules about when they can reach out to you about certain subjects and the protocol for this. When colleagues or friends think they can count on you to unload at any time or place, then they’d do just that.
State your preferences or boundaries where possible, so that those closest to you can respect them as far as communication is concerned.
2. Schedule Time to Decompress
Regardless of the barriers you put up, the ripple effect of emotions is real and can be dangerous when there is no time for you to let out the steam. Become a master of avoiding secondhand stress by taking breaks when your mind needs them, and encouraging others around you to do the same.
I’ve seen high stress levels disappear in the course of a short break, so I’d say this is a great health tip to watch your back and avoid contagious stress from taking its toll. As long as you work in groups or an organization, Yale research by Dr. Barsade shows that you're likely going to absorb anxiety or stress from others now and again. Just be careful to not let it pile up by taking these necessary breaks.
3. Watch for the Signs and Bring It Up
You likely know the signs already. I’m not saying to focus on everyone's negativity or apparent stress levels but there are tell-tale indicators that stick out. Paying attention to those around you could help you stop an issue before it escalates or is even transferred to you.
Don't go looking for problems to add to yours, just bring it up and offer support to a colleague or friend who seems down as soon as you notice something that's slightly off.
4. Set up Quiet, Safe Spaces at Home/Work
There are so many benefits of knowing that you have somewhere to go and unwind in the midst of all the chaos that unfolds daily. From my experience, it doesn’t take much to set up a quiet area at home or in our office (through management).
Create an area where conversations can take place uninterrupted or even just somewhere people can go for a peaceful few minutes alone.
5. Don't Bend Over Backwards Trying to Help
Be careful about your efforts to rescue the next person from their own troubles. You can inherit their stress this way if you're not able to draw mental lines about what’s yours and what’s not. Limiting how much you invest yourself into the issues plaguing others will help you stay immune to the high levels of stress or anxiety that can easily be transferred.
6. Go about Things Positively
When you're in a position to lead or work with others, do so with positivity. You may not even realize it, but your approach to people or things could be adding to the tense environment in your business or personal life. One of the quickest ways to transfer stress is through verbal communication, so it is wise to watch what you say to those around you and how you say it. I certainly have a hard time with this and often have to remind myself.
But when the feedback we get isn't what we want, it is most important to stay positive so we can prevent secondhand stress from going around.