Science Says Stress Is Contagious — Here’s How to Avoid Catching It

Stress might feel like something personal that hits an individual based on his or her own reactions to situations, but stress is actually something that can spread from person to person like a disease. Stress, in all its forms from simple anxiety all the way up to full blown frustration and anger, is a communicable condition. Neurological scientists have conducted studies that examine data from people regarding their levels of stress, and found stress can spread through simple social contact; even if the initially stressed people are trying to mask their reactions.

It turns out, there are evolutionary reasons for stress to be something that spreads. If a threat, or some sort of situation that requires a response from anyone who might need to react, can trigger a stress reaction, those people are less likely to be caught unawares by it. And they’re more likely to be doing something to end the reason for the stress.

But in modern life, this can have unintended consequences. For example, classes full of students who are stressed for perfectly ordinary reasons, such as being concerned over an upcoming test, can often result in the teacher of that class becoming stressed as well. There’s no reason for the teacher to be concerned, but the stress transmits regardless.

To help guard against stress that doesn’t really need to affect you, look for ways to examine both yourself and situations. Try to identify the source of the stress, and determine if you can simply ignore it. And remember that becoming less stressed is also socially communicable; talking to a friendly person can help you relax, and they can transmit their calm to you.

Key Points:

  • 1Envision a peaceful outcome before you undertake a situation to reduce stress.
  • 2Take a break to put some physical distance between yourself and a stressor to improve outcomes.
  • 3Slowing down your breathing will reduce your body’s response to stress.

Scientists were surprised to find that the brain activity of the nonstressed mice mirrored those who actually lived through the nerve-wracking experiment.

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