Your Stress is My Stress – Is Stress Contagious?

Stress can be very complicated, especially when the stress is not your own. That's called transitional stress and it can do a lot of harm.

Your Stress is My Stress - Is Stress Contagious

Surely I am not the only person who has taken on stress that does not belong to them. Is stress contagious? Please, tell me I’m not the only one. It’s pretty easy to do and you probably don’t realize it when it’s happening. Have you ever had someone tell you about their season of life, or ask for your opinion/suggestion regarding a certain situation? If you have, then you know how hard it can be to answer without emotion. It can also be hard to not take on someone else’s stress, intentionally, or unintentionally.

Transmitted stress is when we experience the physiological response another person has, to a stressor without experiencing the stressor ourselves. Is this saying that stress is contagious? Some may say that our brains are wired to feel and react to others stress. It also creates unnecessary tension when applied to day-to-day anxiety. When stress flows through the common office, friend group, or family.  Well this is great! As if my own stress isn’t enough.

Related Post: Enable Others to Act and Watch Them Grow

Have you ever had a day, where everything seems to be going swell? You’re just humming along to your own beat, feeling really good about where you are in life, at work, in your mental state, until someone comes along and dampens the mood. Someone else’s bad day, horrible experience comes sweeping into your space. In a blink of an eye, your stress response is activated. Imagine this cyclical experience happening multiple times throughout the day with different people… that’s what I call a snowball. Contagious stress. The more stress we put on ourselves, the more likely we are to stress out those around us.

How can we protect ourselves from contagious stress?

We have to find ways to block the stress others try to cast on us so we can filter it out, especially when it’s not serving any good for our lives.

1. We have to change our response

Our reactions determine if and how we internalize the stress of other people. We have to come to the realization that everything isn’t for us to handle. We do not have to take everything personally, or instantly be the fixer. I know I’m guilty of that.  I blame my type A personality. Remember, a lot of people don’t even realize they are projecting their stress onto others. Use this as an opportunity to speak hope and life into someone. The stress doesn’t have to be contagious, you can turn the mood in the right direction.

2. Learn how to be a positive influencer

Positive emotions can spread just like stress. Happy and healthy energy is felt by people when they are around you. It doesn’t take much and there are simple ways to spread joy. Be thankful, when people seem to be closed off respond in love, learn how to respond to negativity with positive reminders, and be sure to celebrate your wins, no matter how small.

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lordhe brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Psalm 118:5-6 NIV

I’m sure we all can pick a couple of these to factor into our lives. And putting them into practice is easy. Just try one per day to start out with. Go a full 24 hours telling people “thank you”, or that you appreciate them.  You can say these things even if you don’t feel it.

3. When you recognize the stress before it happens, you can stop it.

When you see stress coming, or can feel the contagious stress from someone else, there’s nothing that might be easier than to call it out.  Ask your friend what is wrong, ask them to be specific. Get to the root of it and pray for God to handle it. Be encouraging and help them through breathing and making a plan to handle their stress before it takes over.

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Proverbs 12:25 NIV

Putting a name to our worries can bring some much needed clarity. Before the conversation takes a turn for a negative lane, be supportive, and try to direct the conversation away from the emotional high stress. Use phrases like ” I know you’re good at what you do and I’m here to give you a pep talk next time you need one” and then walk away, or walk outside. Phrases such as, “that sounds difficult. I’m sorry you are dealing with this.” This gives the person some time to think about the current situation and hopefully acknowledge that you are refusing to play a part in the role, but that you are willing to be supportive.

Between work, financial issues, those facing challenges with the current pandemic, family stress, quarantine, and other obligations, what extra time is there to take on the stress of someone else? Not a lot, right? Manage your space and manage it well.  Allow others to grow and learn, but be the helpful friend who steers them to a positive mindset.

Question from Virginia A. DePratter, the author.

What kind of stress do you take on for other people?

Written by Virginia A. DePratter

I would rather stand with God and be judged by the world, than to stand with the world and be judged by God. My mission in life is to help others see their full potential and help people maximize their talents.

7 thoughts on “Your Stress is My Stress – Is Stress Contagious?

  1. Well put my friend, and a timely message- your wisdom shines.
    It is hard not to allow the stress around you to infiltrate your well intended strategy to have a good day. Ha, as if!!!
    Thank you for the reminder to pause, take a breath, think/pray a moment, and then respond to the moment. Is this something you are to be a solution? Or is this something you are to be an observer? God has this situation and even planned it. Now determine what role He has you playing in it and act accordingly. Again, it is so much easier said than done.

    1. Thank you Dawn. I think we both have had a series of stressful, life changing events and you are absolutely right. Our well intended strategies don’t always go as planned. I love you my friend.

  2. This is wonderful, your talents go far beyond the norm. Write a book , it may be timely , but yet time is on your side… Bless you..

  3. This post is extremely wise. Thank you for this, Virginia! I’ve had to distance myself from people during this season in my life. But no people “in person” just over social media. I don’t want or need the negativity. But when I’m around people, I do my best to support and build others up. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. My pleasure Alex, thank you for the reminder. It’s not just “in-person” it’s what we allow through any and all communication channels. Great reminder.

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