Recent research has found that there is actually a biological truth to this. Our emotions are emitted through neurons in the brain, and these neurons are sensitive enough that they can mirror the emotions of other people in close proximity.
This explains why it is so common to yawn when you see someone else yawn. It’s why you may smile back at someone unconsciously after they’ve smiled at you. By the same token, you also can pick up on the good or bad mood of someone else.
Researchers compare the phenomenon to secondhand smoke; it’s just as real and can be detrimental if you don’t consciously avoid adopting someone else’s mood. For example, if you catch a ride with an irritable taxi driver who is honking and yelling out the window, odds are you’ll arrive at your destination in a foul mood.
If you’re scheduled to give a presentation at work and your boss bolts into the room stressed out and distracted, it can have an immediate effect on your own nervous system. You may inadvertently pick up these cues and give a less confident or enthusiastic performance, rush through key points and forget to provide supporting data.
The closer you are to the person, the more likely you are to be impacted. One study found that while 26 percent of subjects exhibited elevated levels of cortisol just by observing a stressed-out person, they were 40 percent more likely to “catch” the contagious mood from a romantic partner than a stranger.
These findings may be particularly impactful in certain industries, such as health care. It is strongly believed that a positive outlook can help improve a medical condition; thus, the opposite also tends to be true. A patient who witnesses a stressed-out doctor or nurse may suffer more than if cared for by more positive, cheerful providers. The most recent research has revealed that this transmittance of stress can impact us down to a cellular level, which can, in fact, shorten our lifespan.
-Don’t stress over stress. In other words, stop worrying about the impact of stress and focus on its positive effects, such as its ability to make you mentally tougher, heighten your awareness or create the need to re-examine your priorities.
-Turn the tide. When you see a harried coworker grimacing, return it with a smile or a nod of understanding. Short-circuit negative encounters by exhibiting a nonverbal cue of empathy and kindness.
-Start positive. Even when you’re agitated, start your conversations with a positive comment. Instead of, “I’m swamped,” say “It’s great to talk to you.”
-Do something you do well to help you feel more confident. The higher your self-esteem, the better you can deal with stressful situations.
-Exercise when you feel stressed; it releases endorphins — the happy hormone.
Practice positivity. Whenever you feel stress or anxiety, incorporate these four components into your day:
-Praise someone you know
-Write down three things for which you’re grateful
-Engage in cardio exercise for 30 minutes
– Meditate for two minutes.
Remember, warding off stress isn’t something you should do just for yourself and your health: Your mindset can affect those around you as well.