Stress is contagious too

When the person across from us is all edgy and nervous, it can affect us as well. Mavie knows why this is so, when one is particularly prone to "stress infections" and which strategies help against them.

Mavie editorial team07/07/2023

Stress is contageous

Your stress is my stress too

Whether at work in an open-plan office or at dinner with the family: if someone is nervous or stressed, he or she can put tension on the entire environment - simply through certain facial expressions, gestures, breathing or voice modulation. Just as we can empathize and suffer, we can also "stress along". This is referred to as empathetic stress, which can even be measured: Studies have shown that the stress hormone cortisol is released more frequently in both the stressed and their observers. Our stress echo is all the greater, the deeper the "we-feeling".

For whom stress is less contagious
In a recent study, the results of which were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers report that certain factors may play a role in why "stress infections" are stronger in some people and weaker in others. For example, the stress transmission was lower in those study participants who were emotionally stable, acted solution-oriented and conscientiously, or were convinced that they could influence situations.

Three practical tips against empathic stress

  1. Pay attention inwards. In order to give valid answers to the questions "How am I doing right now?" and "Is this my fault, or am I feeling someone else's feelings?", it is advisable to direct our attention to our inner being. Silence helps. Just walking around the block helps to switch into good contact with ourselves.
  2. Breathing helps! The most direct way back to us from the stress cloud is conscious breathing. That works anytime and anywhere. It doesn't matter which meditation practice or breathing technique you use. We suggest the 4-7-8 method: place the tongue against the roof of the mouth. While inhaling through your nose, count to four, then hold your breath for seven seconds—exhale for eight seconds. Repeat these steps. After a few passes you will feel the centering effect.
  3. Have a real conversation. Speak openly and respectfully to the stressed counterpart what you perceive and feel at this moment. Be understanding, but gently take the lead. The first step helps to calm the situation down by slowing down your speech. This has a stress-reducing and calming effect on your counterpart. If this is successful, you can carefully create new, more optimistic thoughts in the conversation.

And here is a final tip: there are situations in which you cannot take the stress away from your counterpart, even with the best of intentions. Accept that too without getting infected.

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