It’s tiring to be around someone who complains, thrives on drama, or is always high-strung and rushing around. After spending time with this person, you may feel drained, edgy, or fatigued for hours-even days.
Why? Well, science shows that stress, just like the flu or yawning, is contagious.
Mirror neurons in the brain give us the capacity to understand others. But it also means we’re wired to absorb other people’s negativity. Simply observing someone expressing anger increases stress hormones in the body 26 percent.
Secondhand stress can show up in many ways: worrying about other people’s problems, feeling jittery without knowing why, or rushing because someone else is, to name a few.
We know chronic stress contributes to all sorts of long-term health problems, which is why it’s essential to get a plan in place to safeguard your happiness.
Here are four ways to improve your emotional immunity and protect yourself from secondhand stress.
1) Stop the Spread
Humans are social creatures. When we see someone else stressing out, we might instinctively model them. You may think, “she’s freaking out, so I should be worried too” or follow their lead and expect the worse. These unhelpful reactions are automatic but can be changed. Pause and tune into your response. Knowing your own stress style is one way to begin catching yourself before you overreact to bad vibes around you.
2) Empathize, Don’t Internalize
In any relationship, all we can do is take 100% responsibility for our 50% of the interaction. Put simply, you can only take ownership of yourself. Instead of taking on another person’s stress, see it as an opportunity to practice compassion for them. Validate their concerns. Give them an opportunity to share what’s stressing them out, but don’t join in on the negativity.
3) Keep Your Own Stress Levels Low
You’re probably sick of hearing experts saying to slow down and focus on your breath, but it’s for good reason: it’s one of the easiest ways to regulate stress and boost your immune system. Meditation and exercise are other great happiness boosters that’ll get good endorphins flowing. You can also steer your attention towards the positive by surrounding yourself with people and things that spark joy.
4) Bolster Your Boundaries
Creating boundaries is an act of self-care. Know when to step away from an interaction that isn’t serving you. For instance, you may need to limit time with certain people, try a social media detox, or physically leaving the room. Other times, communicating clear expectations (“I can chat for five minutes, then I have to run” or “let’s pick a time to revisit this so I can give you my full attention”) may do the job.
Increasing your self-awareness, setting healthy boundaries, and tending to your own emotional well-being are strong antidotes to keeping secondhand stress at bay.