5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Secondhand Stress

We all know about the dangers of secondhand smoke, but do you know about the risks of secondhand stress? Yes, secondhand stress is a thing, and if you’re not careful, it could make you sick.

Stress is Contagious

Have you ever been around someone that made you feel stressed and anxious? Before they came into the room, you were fine, happy and calm. But then they came in and suddenly you found yourself chewing on your nails or feeling on edge?

Like the flu or common cold, our emotions, stress included, are like viruses. We spread them to one another unsuspectingly. Before language developed, this act of instantaneously passing information through feelings helped our ancestors survive. Sharing emotions was a huge part of our evolution.

Though this communication mechanism is no longer needed, like a vestigial tail, we still pass around our emotions to each other on a daily basis. Sadly, most of us are unaware that much of the day we may be feeling someone else’s stress and not our own.

6 Signs You’re Suffering from Secondhand Stress

By recognizing the signs and learning who your triggers are, you can fight the harmful effects of secondhand stress that can make you sick. Here are 6 of the most common signs:

1] You’re Stressed and You Have No Idea Why

Most of us can pinpoint what is stressing us out – a project at work or a sick kid at home. If you are feeling stressed but you can’t really put your finger and why that is, this is a telltale sign that you are feeling someone else’s stress.

2] Your Glass is Suddenly Half Empty

Even people who are normally very positive can become overtly pessimistic around stressful people. Because our brain is wired for survival, once infected with someone else’s stress, you may find you naturally pay more attention to negativity as a way to ‘stay safe’.

3] You Become a “Hurrier”

When you’re cool, calm and collected, you make slow, intentional movements. But when you are around someone who is anxious all of the time, you may suddenly find yourself with a new sense of urgency, like every minute of each day is an emergency. Every task you perform is done with a feeling of, “Hurry up, something’s about to happen.”

4] You’re Tired All of the Time

Have you gone from feeling energized and rested to suddenly beat? While there is nothing particularly challenging going on in your own life, you feel worn down because your body does not know the difference between your stress and someone else’s. Secondhand stress means you feel the same “fight or flight” response to stress as the person whose stress it is.

5] You Have Sudden GI Upset

If you’re not one to normally have GI upsets like indigestion and diarrhea, but now suddenly find yourself with stomach trouble, this could be a sign that you are a victim of secondhand stress.

6] Brain Fog

While it may be someone else’s stress, your brain has still been put into the same ‘survival mode’ as theirs. After weeks or months of being in this survival mode, and having your body kept on high alert with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol coursing through your veins, you may notice your brain is starting to blip out and you can’t focus as well as you used to.

Now that you know the signs of secondhand stress, let’s look at some things you can do to protect yourself from it.

1. Identify the Source

It’s important to know who in your environment is the source of this stress. Is it a coworker or family member? Is there anything you can do to alleviate some of the stress for them? For instance, does your coworker need an extra hand with a project? Is your partner stressed about their own work and could use an ear to listen? Sometimes helping others find a solution to their problem can help you find one for your own.

But it’s important to mention that you should never feel you have to do more than you can. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and only help if it’s doable for you. Otherwise you’ll become stressed.

2. End Things

Is there a way you can gracefully break up with the person? If you’ve discovered your neighbor is the toxic trigger, do you best to avoid interactions. If a coworker is beyond help from you, try to spend less time with that person if you can. For example, do you usually go out with the coworker and some other people for lunch? Start bringing your lunch to work and say you’re trying to save money. Do whatever it takes to get yourself as far away from the stress as you can.

3. Surround Yourself with Positive people

The good news is, positivity can be just as contagious as negativity, so do your best to surround yourself with as much positivity as you can.

4. Inspire Positivity

There’s also something to be said for being the person that tips the scales toward positivity in your home, workplace, and community. Think about it: if you have a really negative person on your team at work, all of your other teammates could be swayed to take on this stress and negativity. But by being a source of positivity, you can inspire them to go toward the light not the dark.

5. Put Your Needs First

First and foremost, you’ve got to take care of yourself. Don’t try and please everyone and start putting your own needs first. When it comes to our mental, emotional and physical health, we should NEVER feel guilty about saying “no” more often or about finally putting our needs ahead of others.

The bottom line is, stress has become a bit like air – it’s everywhere. If we’re not dealing with our own stress, we may very well be dealing with others’ without even realizing it. Be sure to look for those warning signs and nip it in the bud before you let stress make you sick.

Peace and light,


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