Have you ever noticed that one person’s stress can spread throughout the room? Turns out you’re not imagining it. Stress has long been considered an emotion caused by external factors over which we have no control. However, research now shows that it can also be contagious, meaning that seeing or being around another person’s stress reactions can influence your own state of mind. The study looked into this phenomenon and the results are more interesting than one might think. Read on to find out what researchers have been able to discover about this phenomenon!
Why do we feel the stress of the people we meet, whether they are our relatives or even strangers?
A American scientific study recent study has provided some answers to this intriguing question. It turns out that this phenomenon, called “empathic stress”, finds its origin in the biological and psychological mechanisms that govern our social behavior.
The scientific explanation lies in the process of empathy and more precisely, in the capacity of our brain to trigger an emotional response in reaction to that of others. Our brain is equipped with mirror neurons, which help us to understand and imitate the actions and emotions of the people around us. The functioning of these mirror neurons would be at the origin of the propagation of stress within a group.
Also, a person’s stress response can be influenced by an elevated level of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress and can be detected in saliva. In the study in question, it was shown that participants exposed to a stressful situation had higher cortisol levels than those who were not exposed. What’s more, people who were in contact with the stressed participants also showed higher cortisol levels, suggesting that stress can be ‘transmitted’ from person to person.
In addition, psychological factors play an important role in the contagion of stress.
When we perceive that someone is stressed, we become more aware of our own emotions and our environment, and seek to understand what may be causing this stress. By doing so, we can potentially detect threatening situations or challenges to overcome, which, in turn, can provoke a stress response in ourselves.
Finally, stress contagion can be considered as a biological and psychological mechanism that promotes group cohesion and leads individuals to react in a synchronized way to potentially dangerous situations. Although stress can be detrimental to our well-being and affect our mental and physical health, it can also help us to be more alert and prepared to face challenges or threats.
In short, contagious stress is a complex phenomenon that involves neurological, hormonal and psychological processes that allow us to feel and share the emotions of others in order to better react to everyday situations.
Here are the signs that we are victims of contagious stress.
People experiencing contagious stress may experience negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness, anger, or irritability. They may also have trouble concentrating and making decisions.
Indirect stress can also lead to physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscle aches, trouble sleeping, persistent fatigue, or digestive issues.
Impact on relationships:
People suffering from contagious stress may find it difficult to maintain healthy and harmonious relationships with others, as they are often irritable, nervous and less tolerant of frustration.
Development of compulsive behaviors:
In the face of indirect stress, some people develop compulsive behaviors in an attempt to control their environment, such as excessive email checking, excessive preoccupation with organization and planning, or a penchant for perfectionism.
Some people try to protect themselves from contagious stress by detaching from their emotions, which can lead to a lack of empathy, difficulty making emotional connections with others, and feelings of isolation.
Memory and concentration problems:
Indirect stress can disrupt our ability to concentrate and retain information, leading to lack of work productivity, mistakes or forgetfulness.
Increased consumption of psychoactive substances:
People experiencing indirect stress may be tempted to use substances such as alcohol, nicotine or drugs to relax or to cope with their negative emotions.
Contagious stress can also undermine our self-confidence and ability to handle difficult situations effectively, causing feelings of helplessness and inadequacy.
To limit the impact of contagious stress, it is essential to learn how to effectively manage our own stress, develop communication and problem-solving skills, and cultivate healthy habits for our mental and physical well-being, such as the practice of regular physical activities, the maintenance of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, thus finding ourselves close to optimistic and jovial people who can bring more harmony to our daily lives to successfully overcome this overwhelming stress.