8 Ways to Cope with Contagious Stress
Nobody likes having to deal with stress. The situation is even worse when you can’t avoid contact with those around you who are adding to your stress level. Like a cold, stress can be contagious. What can you do? Must you accept this is something you cannot change? In short, no. These are a few of many proactive ways to cope with contagious stress.
First, though, the concept of contagious stress isn’t some novel disease du jour. Instead, contagious stress is a very real phenomenon. For example, how is it that partners/spouses and family members of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) displayed symptoms of PTSD even though they’d never been in the military themselves?
Research from scientists at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute helps shed light on how contagious stress occurs. By studying how stress affects pairs of mice, then removing one mouse from the pair and exposing it to mild stress before returning it to the other mouse, they found that the stressed mouse transmitted stress to its partner. The evidence? Scientists examined the brains of both mice, looking specifically at CRH neurons (responsible for controlling how the brain responds to stress). What they found was that changes (due to stress) were identical in both mice, the originally stressed one and the one not initially directly exposed to stress. Interestingly, in female mice only, the residual effects of stress effects are cut in half following a social interaction after time spent with the unstressed mouse. This finding may have implications for development of personalized treatment strategies for stress.
Another study from the University of British Columbia found a connection between teacher burnout and elevated cortisol (a biological indicator of stress) levels in their students. This occurred in classrooms where teachers experienced greater emotional exhaustion and burnout. Study researchers said that a stressful classroom climate is a cyclical problem. And, in children, stress has also been linked to learning problems and mental health issues.
PROACTIVE WAYS TO COPE WITH CONTAGIOUS STRESS
Getting back to what you can do to combat the effects of contagious stress, try a few of the following suggestions:
1. Build resilience.
When you’re more resilient, you’re better able to weather the effects of contagious stress. How you build resilience is a personal approach that you refine over time. Effective resilience builders include connecting with others, learning how to reframe negative experiences, practicing optimism, connecting with loved ones and friends, maximizing your strengths to achieve desired goals, setting a work-life balance, and implementing a healthy daily routine that includes nutritious diet and physical activities.