How to Stop Secondhand Stress From Affecting You

Stress is a normal part of our daily lives, but we all experience enough stress on our own without worrying about additional stress from exterior sources. This is known as secondhand stress — and it can be even worse than your own stressors. What constitutes secondhand stress, and how can you stop it from affecting you?

What Is Secondhand Stress?

Have you ever watched a family member or friend stressing out about something, only to find yourself stressing over it, too? Researchers have found stress can be contagious, especially if the person you’re watching is very expressive about their stress. They’ve also found that stress is even more contagious when it comes from people who are closest to you — such as romantic partners, family members and children.

So now the question is, how can you stop secondhand stress from affecting you?

Vaccinate Yourself

No, you don’t need to call your doctor — we’re talking about vaccinating yourself against secondhand stress. Instead of reacting to someone else’s stress, prepare yourself for potentially stressful situations in that might crop up during the day. In his TED Talk, psychologist Shawn Achor offers some techniques you can adapt to vaccinate yourself against secondhand stress, including:

  • Meditation — A short meditation break, even just 2-5 minutes, can do wonders to help with stress levels and help prevent you from making other people’s stress your own.
  • Cardio exercise — Go for a 30-minute walk or hop on the treadmill to help you deal with stress.
  • Write in a journal — Write about a positive experience you had recently.
  • Be grateful — Write down a few things you’re grateful for.
  • Say something nice — Write an email praising someone you know. Even if you don’t send it, it reinforces the good things you think about them.

Positive actions like these, or any others you can think of, help inoculate you against the kind of secondhand stress that can follow you around.

If none of these options sound appealing, think of a few positive actions you can use to immunize yourself against that secondhand stress. Try finding some steps to help you stay motivated throughout your week while vaccinating yourself against stress.

Strengthen Your Emotional Immune System

Just like your body’s immune system protects you against bacteria and viruses to keep you from getting sick, your emotional immune system is your protection against secondhand stresses. The best way to strengthen this part of your immune system is to create and reinforce strong self-esteem. If you’re sure of yourself, it becomes much easier to let those secondhand stressors roll right off your shoulders rather than affecting you negatively.

One of the best ways to improve your self-esteem is exercise — every time you hit the gym, your brain releases rewarding endorphins which boost your mood.

Whether you’re training for a marathon or just walking around the block, get up and get moving to reinforce your self-esteem and strengthen that emotional immune system.

Don’t Let It Get to You

Many people deal with stress by internalizing it. If you’re one of those folks, it may sound challenging to not let stress build up inside your mind. Instead of becoming a stress-Atlas and taking it all onto your shoulders, the key here is to change how you respond to the situation.

This skill requires a specific type of empathy. Not only do you need to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you need to be able to be empathetic without allowing that empathy to override your own emotional needs. Try starting your conversations, even those about stressful topics, on a positive note. That first step, that first statement, sets the foundation for how you approach stress and how you let it affect you. If you start on a positive note, you have a positive foundation — if you start on a negative note, you open the door to let that secondhand stress affect you.

Secondhand stress might be part of life, but it doesn’t have to affect you negatively. By taking a few simple steps, you can turn that extra stress into something positive for both you and the people around you.

For more ideas about how to deal with secondhand stress and other topics, like how to get the most out of your workday, subscribe and get all the tools delivered right to your inbox.


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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