We all know that second-hand smoke is bad for you – even if you don’t smoke cigarettes, being exposed to second-hand smoke can cause some pretty serious health problems. It turns out that the same is true for mood! The humor of those around us directly affects how we feel on a daily basis.
Recent research has revealed that if you’re surrounded by people who are highly expressive, they can “contaminate” you with their mood. Noticing someone else is stressed is enough for your brain to release cortisol, the stress hormone. One study found that “26% of the observers displayed physiologically significant cortisol increases” just by observing stressed peers.
This applies to work and family relations, as well as other social settings. Plus, stress is apparently more contagious between romantic partners than, for example, work colleagues. This phenomenon also follows social hierarchy, meaning someone in a position of power (for example, a parent, or a boss at work) is more likely to affect other people’s moods.
The same concept also applies to other moods and emotions. For example, happiness, sadness, anxiety and a range of other emotions can all be shared and transmitted just through observation.
This phenomenon causes emotions to accumulate, sometimes with drastic effect… Stressed bosses lead to stressed workers who come home as stressed parents, leading to stressed children, who then return to class and stress out their teachers! It’s a vicious cycle!
What can be done to counteract this negative effect?
Strategies for Accumulated Stress
Communication was found by researchers to be a key element to reduce stress contagion. Especially for authority figures, communicating the reasons for their stress can help ease the tension and will make undesirable emotions “less contagious”. For example, if a father comes home from work and says “I am stressed because of a problem at work”, his family is more likely to be sympathetic, rather than becoming anxious.
Basic health habits, such as exercise, sleep and diet, also play a role. Getting enough sleep and eating healthy reduce natural stresses on the mind and body, making social stresses seem less urgent. As for exercise, someone experiencing stress might consider yoga as a good way of relieving tension and finding balance with themselves.