Why anxiety is contagious and how to protect yourself

You are probably familiar with the main trick of social networks: when looking through the feed, we suddenly get distraught because of something that does not concern us at all. When we see people (especially if we know them) oppressed by something, we involuntarily begin to feel similar emotions.

Even more interesting, before we realize our mood swings, we’re tempted to repost something that we probably wouldn’t care if we didn’t see that it worries someone else. This is how the stress toxin continues its online journey – to another susceptible person.

The same happens offline, even on a larger scale. Admit it, are you, like a sponge, absorbing your friend’s stress and vice versa? Most likely, because you honestly and in detail tell each other everything that worries you, but sometimes you can catch those “rays of trouble” without words. Is it simple human empathy, or are we getting infected with someone else’s anxiety?

How we share grief and joy

Emotional contagion is a proven psychological phenomenon. As Elaine Hatfield, a social psychologist at the University of Hawaii and a pioneer in relationship science, explains, “The reason individuals influence others is that we tend to imitate those we interact with by synchronizing our movements with facial expressions, voice, posture, gestures, and general behavior of the Interlocutor. “

It is easy to adopt someone else’s emotions because we constantly contact people around us. In the case of a positive impact, this is for the best (it has been proven that when you communicate with someone happy, your level of positiveness increases by 25%), but much more often, we adopt feelings that we do not want. “Yes, we are infected with laughter and happiness, but we are much more susceptible to sadness, anger, and fear,” says Hatfield.

Why and what spoils our mood

In addition to our behavioral instincts, we can pick up someone else’s mood on a physical level – like a virus or a bacterium. A recent study in mice proves stress to animals is like an infection. The project leader, a neuroscientist at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, Toni-Lee Sterley, believes the study’s findings hold for humans: developed and complexly arranged. “

In the study, mice were caged in pairs. One of them was then removed from there, slightly stressed (the animal protectors are looking!) And returned. So, when a frustrated mouse got into a cage, it broadcast its stress to a calm and carefree neighbor. How? “The mouse left in the cage sniffs for a long time when it comes back, smelling its stress pheromones,” says Dr. Sterley. “And we believe that’s how anxiety is passed between partners.” Brain scans of both mice confirmed the scientists’ findings – the brain of the one that remained in the cage reflected the impulses of the upset partner. Sterley points out that the stress applied to the mice was very delicate. Can you imagine how toxic a severe nervous shock is?

A similar study is planned to be carried out in humans to clarify the physiological nature of recognizing and imitating the mood of others. “Based on experiments in the past, humans are also able to smell stress,” says Sterley. “It is clear that pheromones affect human perception more than is commonly believed, in addition to being able to transmit stress through body language and verbal communication.”

Scientists believe that our susceptibility to other people’s ills has evolutionary reasons to protect us. If you pick up someone else’s stress today, you will more calmly endure a similar situation in the future.

But, as we know, learning from other people’s mistakes and experiences is, to put it mildly, unproductive. It is unlikely that your friend realizes the benefits of what is happening, upset about what she might never have experienced, and vice versa. And, of course, absorbing other people’s worries is entirely pointless in the context of social networks. “Well,” concludes Dr. Sterley. “This is part of what defines people as social beings: for better or worse, we know how to empathize.”

How to protect yourself from other people’s stress

Get distracted

Try to avoid communicating with the anxiety peddler. Emotional contagion is highly dependent on the attention given, and the truth is that we are drawn to people in bad moods – usually out of a desire to help. Trust your intuition; it will tell you when to lend your shoulder and when it is better to take care.

Use a Counterattack

Remember that on the list of the most “contagious” emotions – calmness and serenity. In response to negative confession, try to keep a calm tone and smile warmly – this way, you will maintain your mood and, possibly, stabilize the interlocutor.

Just talk

Try telling a toxic person that their pessimistic view of the world is crumbling in your soul. Frequently, those who succeed in negatively impacting the environment are unaware of this, and therefore face-to-face conversation is the most inconvenient but practical course of action.

Note* Always consult your doctor or other qualified health care professional for any questions you may have about your health or condition. Never disregard a health care professional’s advice or delay getting it because of what you read on this website.

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