Stress is contagious. Simply being around someone who’s stressed and tangled up in their emotions can make it difficult for you to stay calm. Just like a sponge absorbs water, you can absorb the emotions, good or bad, of others around you.
Does this sound familiar? You try hard to stay calm while your parents are constantly worried about the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. Soon enough, you find yourself in a similar state of mind—your emotions go for a toss, and just like that, your days are filled with anxiety and stress. This happens because stress is a form of emotional contagion that can spread among members in a group quickly—and have a lingering effect that can last for hours, and even days.
“We naturally catch other people’s emotions unconsciously, just like we might catch a cold,” says Laurie Santos, Ph.D. and cognitive scientist and professor of psychology at Yale University. “We are much more affected by the people around us than we might think, in terms of behaviours and habits.”
In fact, there is evidence to prove that simply observing someone who is under a lot of stress can increase your level of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Most of us have to deal with stress as an omnipresent force. And though it’s difficult to maintain your calm when others around you are stressed, there are several ways you can fight back. Here are a few.
An excellent way to stay calm and stress-free is to exercise. Doing a few rounds of push-ups, running on a treadmill and power-punching are great ways to vent your emotions if you’ve had a rough day. Even a simple walking back and forth in your apartment can help you clear your mind and reduce stress. When you indulge in physical activities, your body releases endorphin, the ‘feel good’ chemical that is responsible for lifting your mood.
Remove yourself from the stressful environment
Sometimes, it’s important to remove yourself from a stressful environment. And to do so, it is necessary to identify the sources of stress in your life. Is it caused by talking to certain individuals or by being in a particular environment? Figure out what or who stresses you out and detach yourself from the source. The idea is to remove yourself from the environment that can increase your stress. So, the next time you find yourself caught in a stressful situation, excuse yourself and walk away to get your emotions in order.
Meditate every morning
Starting your day with meditation sets the tone for the entire day, helping you stay focused, content, and positive. Try to set aside 10 minutes every morning to meditate. If you’re a beginner or always fall short of time, start with five minutes and then work your way up. When you make meditation a part of your daily life, tense situations don’t rattle you as much. It also lessens your chances of resorting to unhealthy stress-relief options that cause damage, such as smoking, drinking, or overeating. If you’re looking for ways to stay calm, then meditation is your answer.
Take deep breaths
The next time you find yourself in difficult situations and feel overwhelmed, remember to breathe. Something as simple as taking a few deep breaths can be an instant yet powerful tool to regulate emotions. When you’re stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and you start breathing more rapidly, making you feel anxious. Breathing deeply allows you to slow down and relax, and prevents your body from reacting to the stress around you. Hence, whenever you feel other people’s stress getting to you, take five deep breaths, and imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
Self-compassion can be an effective tool for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. According to a mental health study on university students, practising self-compassion can help you not just get through, but thrive during challenging times. Results of the study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, found students who reported an increase in self-compassion during their first year at school, also felt more energetic, optimistic, and engaged. So, when you’re around someone who is stressed out, try not to beat yourself up if you can’t help them. Take care of yourself first, only then you can support others.
Tap into a happy memory
If you find yourself in the middle of a stressful session, think about the moments that make you smile. Focusing on happy memories could give your mental health a real boost, especially when you’re trying to stay calm in a stressful situation. Research published in the journal Nature Human Behavior concludes positive memories can pump the breaks on cortisol—the stress hormone. So, if you want to know how to overcome stress, an effective solution would be to tap into a happy memory.