Why second-hand stress is contagious and how to avoid cracking it

Second hand stress contagiousEver had gastro? It’s officially my least favourite highly contagious illness. My house has been in the throws of it for the past five days and no one has escaped its gut wrenching grasp, (including my poor in-laws who had travelled interstate to spend time with their darling grandkids…)

I knew we were all going to get sick. You knock about with people with gastro; you get gastro. You hang about with people who have a cold; you’re going to get a cold.

But did you know that stress is just as contagious? And can make you much sicker?

A recent study by St Louis University in the US has found that simply being around another person in a stressful situation can be enough to make you stress out. And the more you genuinely care about the stressed out person, the more likely you are to ‘catch’ their stress.

Apparently three-quarters of us are already stressed. And stress is worse for your health and wellbeing than a tantruming 2-year-old with gastro. It takes over, making your body put off essential processes like wound healing, digestion and immunity. Stay stressed for long enough and we’re talking heart attacks, strokes and depression.

How to avoid catching second-hand stress

1. Identify stress-head warning signs

How do you feel when you start to get stressed? How does your body react? Shortness of breath? A pounding headache? Losing your shit at your nearest and dearest? Figure it out. Then you can start to….

2. Avoid your second-hand stress triggers
Does walking into your workplace make your heart start beating like a nineties house track? Do certain people make you anxious? Do over-tired kids make you want to pull your hair out? Avoid these situations whenever you can. If you can’t, seriously consider changing jobs or swapping kids (joking about the kids). Alternatively, you could…

3. Think carefully about the company you choose
If you’re around stressed people a lot, think about why you are surrounding yourself with people who feel bad about themselves, or who allow others to make them feel bad about themselves. It’s not a flaw to be stressed, but you don’ t need to immerse yourself of the misery of others. If you’re having a hard time disconnecting, shift your attention to those you care about, who care about you, and who have a positive outlook on life.

4. Look after your health
If you’re anything like me, when you’re stressed you tend to stop exercising, reach for the comfort food (and the wine bottle) and stop doing all the stuff you know is good for you, like yoga and meditation. Then you spend countless hours berating yourself for how shit you are. Instead of that try to…

5. Be mindful about your mindset
Talk to yourself with encouragement and love. Stop being your own worst enemy. Practise mediation, breathe, walk. Be grateful for what you have. Think about what makes you happy and do it.

Like most contagious illnesses, stress can cause acute pain and suffering. But you don’t need to let it get the better of you long term. Only you can choose how to react to stressful situations. Only you can choose how you are affected by others’ stress.

Choose happiness instead. It’s as contagious as stress. And it’s much easier on your gut.

Like this post? Oh I do hope so! Show your love by following Wellbeing bites by email. Your loveliness is my happiness. Let’s spread it around…

Cracking under stress photo by Bernard Goldbach

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