Study: How Stress Is Contagious

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Whether you are facing short term stress like a deadline quickly approaching or not being able to find a parking spot at the mall, or a major life event like getting in an argument with your significant others, stress seriously affects our bodies. Unfortunately stress is also contagious. Maybe that’s why the when the person sitting next to you at work seems like they are under a lot of stress, or comes into work in a bad mood, it quickly rubs off on you.

Michelle Gielan, a happiness researcher and author of Broadcasting Happiness, explains in a Greatist article that you can catch stress, just like you’d catch a cold. 

“Seeing someone else in a stressed state can impact our own hormonal and nous system responses as if we were experiencing their stress firsthand,” Heidi Hanna, Ph.D., and author of Stressaholic, told Greatist. Research backs this idea up: In one study, researchers watched a stressed person though a one way mirror. In 26% of observers, a hormone directly related to stress, called cortisol, rose.

The study also showed that stress can be easier passed by someone who is talking or acting loud, and making it known that they are stressed. In comparison, others who bottle up their stress will have less contagious stress. Stress and unhappiness doesn’t just spread from person to person. According to study from the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, stress can even be passed from media to people.

According to one of the study’s authors, Veronika Engert, stress has great contagion potential. “Even television programs depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers,” Engert said in a release to Eurek Alert

The good news is positivity and happiness are also contagious. So, if you know someone is stressed, you can try to remain positive and bring up the energy surrounding the conversation.

“You would think that your emotional state would depend on your own choices and actions and experience,” Nicholas A. Christakis, a medical sociologist at Harvard University, told the Washington Post. “But it also depends on the choices and actions and experiences of other people, including people to whom you are not directly connected. Happiness is contagious.”

Overall, stress can have a negative impact of health, and chronic stress even has the ability to affect us later in life. Even second hand stress can speed up negative brain development. “The effect of secondhand stress are the same as chronic stress,” Hanna told Greatist. “Stress do not cause disease to happen, but it speeds up the development of anything that might be wrong with the body or brain.”

But, on the other end positive thinking has a strong effect on your brain as well, and has power to fight disease. Either way these studies show how not only our emotions, but also the emotions of the people we surround ourselves with have a strong impact on our attitude.

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