How other people’s stress can get to you

We all like to complain after a bad day. Everyone does it, whether to a friend, a family member, our significant other, or our therapist; we complain and unload and through that, we feel a little better. The problem arises when you complain too much. When that happens, some of your stress will start to seep into that person and then they are affected by it as well.

Let’s reverse the roles; instead of being the complainer you are the listener. You have this person who sometimes comes to you and unloads off on you when they’ve had a bad day, or are just feeling down. That’s alright, they need someone and you’re willing to be that someone. Now let’s say that instead of sometimes, they do it all the time.  When that happens you may start getting annoyed, or worse, you may even dread it whenever they come to you and it will start causing you stress and anxiety whenever you even see them. Not exactly a good thing to happen.

Of course, it isn’t always like that, sometimes it can be a group influence type of thing. Let me explain. Let’s say you’re in school and you have a test. You’ve studied for it and you feel confident that you’re going to do well. Then you meet up with your classmates and they start talking about how tough the test is going to be and they’re not sure whether they are even going to pass. You’re the only one with any confidence, everyone else is stressed out to the max. In this kind of scenario you might start doubting yourself, after all everyone else is stressed out, maybe they’re right, maybe the test is going to be tough, oh no, are you going to fail?

You can see where I’m going with this right? In this case, this is just a one off thing, one person isn’t coming over again and again to unload their stress on you, instead a whole group is stressed out and since you’re a part of the group, their stress influences you, and you get stressed too.

But why does this even happen to us? All this stressful stuff isn’t happening to us directly, so why do we feel stressed when others do?

A lot of it has to do with the fact that we are social animals and when we see or feel stress from others, we tend to empathise with them and feel stressed too.

This type of thing has been and discussed way better in these two articles from the internet.

First we have “How Other People’s Stress Can Kill You” posted in the huffingtonpost.com and written by Joe Robinson.

In the post they talk about how we have certain neurons in our brain called Mirror Neurons. These neurons have been found to, “simulate the actions and emotions of others or give us the impulse to do so.” In other words, they make us feel how we perceive the other person is feeling (if that makes sense).  This can work for us or against us; if the people around us are happy then we feel happy, but if the people around us are stressed then we feel stressed. According to this article, the best way to combat this is to override these mirror neurons. How? We have to consciously choose not accept the story the person is telling us and instead reframe the story to the reality of it all. In other words, we have to emotionally distance ourselves from the situation so that we can look at it unbiased and try to give a rational response instead. For most, this is easier said than done, but practice makes perfect so it’s best to get started sooner rather than later.

Another article which examines the phenomenon of feeling other people’s emotions is this article titled, “Other people’s emotions and you How do other people’s emotions affect you?”posted on psychologytoday.com, written by Daniel Voyer Ph.D.

In this one they don’t really focus on stress, rather they focus on all emotions and how people tend to respond to other people’s emotions. They also mention how our brains tend to empathise with other people’s emotions and why we feel happy or sad when others feel happy or sad.

So, after reading these articles I can come up with two ways to deal with this.

  1. Distance yourself physically: Stay away from people who spread negative emotions and surround yourself with positive people. It may sound selfish, but this is reality and sometimes you have to be a little selfish to be happy.
  2. Distance yourself psychologically: Obviously everyone’s situation is different and you can’t always just go, “I’m going to walk away from this.” So the other thing to do is to keep your emotional distance. Like they said in the Huffington post article, you have to choose and make a conscious effort not to empathise completely with what you see and hear and instead rationalise the thing with reality. This doesn’t mean shutting yourself out completely, just shutting yourself enough so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

Personally I like the second option, because let’s face it, you can’t always run away and you never know what life will throw at you. So instead you do the second option so that you can become a stronger person and can deal with that kind of stuff when it comes your way. Sure, you won’t succeed every time but you’ll still grow as a person, and I think that’s the best way to go about it.

Well that’s it for now, I hope I was able to give you some good advice and I hope you have a good day.

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