Is Stress as Contagious as a Yawn?

baby-19295_640Have you ever seen someone yawn in front of you and instantly felt the need to yawn as well? Have you ever seen a yawn go viral during a boring meeting?

According to new research stress can be as contagious as a yawn. Stress is something we can’t see or hear (like we can a yawn), but it’s something that’s every bit as contagious. Who would have thought that?

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Technische Universitat Dresden discovered that not only can someone else’s stress seep into your world if you’re in close contact with them, but even watching stress unfold on TV can wreak havoc in your world.

It’s called empathetic stress, and even though you might not know or care about the people on TV, your mind is capable of empathizing with the characters. It is truly amazing how we can get involved with those stories we watch on TV!

Scientists were able to measure the stress hormone cortisol that freely flooded the bodies of those who were around someone else’s stress – even though they, themselves weren’t put into a stressful situation.

During the study, 95% of those confronted with stress experienced higher cortisol levels. But almost 30% of bystanders who were strangers did, too! The number jumps when the stress involves someone you love. If someone close to you is under stress, then you’re 40% more likely to stress out yourself.

How many times do we get involved in stressful situations at work? During demanding meetings, managing an important team project or working through mergers – we are experiencing stressful situations unfold every day.

Even if you are not part of the stressful situation, experiencing the stress your co-workers and managers go through seems to be enough to stress you out!

Affected by contagious stress? Here is what to do:

Give up on the idea that you can “fix” stressful situations your co-workers are experiencing. When requested, it’s okay to offer advice or your help. It is best to learn how to create an invisible barrier around yourself so that you are buffered from other peoples’ stress.

Does this mean that you are a mean person? Just because you refuse being influenced by contagious stress doesn’t mean you don’t have empathy!  Don’t let yourself get mired in trying to make it all better for your colleagues. If you want to, let your co-workers know that you’re there to lend an ear or a shoulder if needed.

If you’re noticing that your stress levels are too high, it’s time to decrease your exposure to outside influences. Stop watching TV all the time, refuse to listen to negative programs on any media and consciously limit your exposure to negative people in real life and on social media.

The calm and relaxed atmosphere we create during a corporate yoga class can be positively contagious, too. Why not give yoga a try at your organization? Call us at 314-630-1677  so we can bring our contagious “stress-less” practices to your company soon!