For the most part, we know what causes our own stress: work, family, friends, the usual culprits. But what happens when your stress isn’t caused by a direct influence on your life? Then, unfortunately, you’re suffering from secondhand stress.
It can happen to anyone. For example, if your close friend is going through a rough situation and shares it with you, you may experience stress symptoms even though nothing has changed in your life. Sadly, this is a real thing. Stress is actually contagious.
Alicia Clark, Psy.D. told Shape Magazine this happens because empathy for others is hard-wired into our system. It’s thought that when others around us feel stress, our brain picks up their cues and mimics them, creating stress in us, even without an actual cause.
This is unfortunate news for those who already suffer from stress. Stress can be damaging to your health, including affecting arteries in such a way that may cause heart attacks and strokes.
If you find yourself in a stressful situation, even secondhand, it’s best to get some distance from the situation. Take even ten minutes from your day and detach: turn off your phone, meditate, drink tea, do yoga, read a book. Do whatever it may be that relaxes you the most.
When stress is coming from a source outside your personal bubble, say a friend or coworker, take a moment before interacting with them to ensure you can stay calm. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that their issue, no matter how much you feel for them or want to help, has nothing to do with you. By doing this, you may find yourself less likely to pick up their stress.
In some cases, your stress reaction to others’ may be because their stress reminds you of something you need to do, are feeling unprepared for, or are worried about. If that’s the case, take a moment to assess why you are reacting with stress and do whatever you need to do to remove that stress from your life.
Stress is, well, stressful. Sometimes it comes from you, and other times it’s the result of others. No matter where it comes from, do your best to deal with it and move on. You’ll be much happier and healthier for it.