Anxiety is contagious. No, it’s true. Just think about it for a quick NY minute. Have you ever had a conversation with a friend who is under pressure? Career, relationship, kids, the dressing room at Loehmann’s? You realize when you hang up or leave the coffee shop that your neck feels a bit tense, and your shoulders are scrunched up, and your mind is racing – lots of “what if’s?” This is anxiety contagion, and it can spread like wildfire if you aren’t careful.
Yes, you read it right; emotions are contagious. Although this sometimes works out in our favor, we all know a happy friend who has time for a chat can boost our endorphins, and share a happy mood boost, there is also a chance of personal emotional harm. Nobody needs to absorb more stress than what they have in their own lives. Stress can cause significant ailments from CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) to depression, autoimmune disorders, and heart disease. Yes, stress can kill you, so let’s try and keep it minimal.
In a recent study, pairs of lab mice were placed in a cage. One mouse was removed and exposed to a mild stressor. It was returned to the cage and researchers took brain scans of both mice. The stressed mouse showed signs of a stressful experience, and it’s cage mate reflected the same. Anxiety can be mirrored. On an evolutionary level, this makes perfect sense. Think about animals in the wild; with a single call, the unstressed are put on alert, searching and making contingency plans to avoid danger. We are all creating a stress-fueled world – time to work on mindfulness.
How can you stop the cycle? I’ve got four surefire ways….read on.
- Avoidance. If you know that you are highly sympathetic and empathetic, it may be best for you to avoid situations where stress fills the air like a smoggy exhaust. You will choke. As an empath, you absorb other’s emotions. If you find yourself in a conversation with a highly stressed, overdramatic person, it’s OK to walk away. Your emotional health may depend on it. Don’t let their drama drag you down to a dark place; it’s alright to walk away or hang up the phone.
- Positive Communication. If you’re talking to someone who is extremely stressed out, try to be upbeat and focus on something positive. Use mindfulness and positivity like Captain America’s shield…it may not solve their anxiety issues, but it will protect you from being sucked in and attacked.
- Lay off the technology. Twitter, Facebook, IG – social media can become toxic chambers of doom when someone is in an emotional crisis. It’s OK to step back and turn off the technology. It’s super easy to get sucked into the drama – walk away. I have cut my online time by ¾’s to keep myself from any excess anxiety. And I do not need to share; those who know me know the deal. It’s cool.
- Alone time. This is a great resource- yes, you and some quiet time. It’s a great way to practice being mindful and letting all those rogue emotions find a way to disperse. It’s a way to take yourself out of toxic situations and relationships and focus on your own emotional well being. Bake a cake, go for a walk or squish your favorite pet (not if it’s teeny tiny- you’d be sad) and spend some time reflecting on your own emotions. Heal from within peeps.
Deflecting other people’s anxieties is the most significant form of self-care I can think of right now. It’s alright to be there for someone in their time of need, but don’t let it overwhelm you and take over your life. Stay aware of how much positive energy they are draining from you, step away and regain your footing. You can’t help others if you don’t help yourself.
Stay mindful, relaxed and caffeinated!