Stress… Don’t let it get the better of you

Emotions spread via a wireless network of mirror neurons, which are tiny parts of the brain that allow us to empathize with others and understand what they’re feeling. When you see someone yawn, mirror neurons can activate, making you yawn, in turn. Your brain picks up the fatigue response of someone sitting on the other side of the room. But it’s not just smiles and yawns that spread. We can pick up negativity, stress, and uncertainty like secondhand smoke. Researchers Howard Friedman and Ronald Riggio from the University of California, Riverside found that if someone in your visual field is anxious and highly expressive — either verbally or non-verbally — there’s a high likelihood you’ll experience those emotions as well, negatively impacting your brain’s performance. Observing someone who is stressed — especially a peer or family member — can have an immediate effect upon our own nervous systems.

As the research has become more sophisticated, we see that the negativity we “catch” from others can also impact every single business and educational outcome we can track, and most recently has been shown to impact us down to a cellular level, shortening our lifespan. In such a highly connected world, we need to find ways to improve our emotional immune system; otherwise we risk the negative effects of secondhand stress. Here’s how:

Change your response: Instead of fighting and being frustrated at negative people around you; take it as an opportunity to feel compassion or a challenge to help that person become more positive.
Create positive antibodies: We need behaviors that can neutralize the negative effects of a stressed person. Instead of returning a peer’s stressed nonverbal with an equally stressed grimace of your own, return it with a smile or a nod of understanding. Suddenly you have the power. The first comment in a conversation often predicts the outcome. Try to start your phone calls not with “I’m swamped” or “I’m so busy.” Instead, start with a breath and calmly say: “It’s great to talk to you.”
Build natural immunity: One of the greatest buffers against picking up others’ stress is stable and strong self-esteem. The higher your self-esteem, the more likely you will feel that you can deal with whatever situation you face. If you are finding yourself being impacted by others’ moods, stop and remind yourself how things are going well and that you can handle anything that comes your way.
Inoculate yourself: Inoculate yourself before going to work or stressful environments. For example, before we start our morning, the very first thing we do is think of three things we are grateful for that day.

The key to health and happiness is improving our emotional immune system to protect ourselves from others’ stress. And of course, it’s not just other people’s stress that matters — our own mindset affects the happiness of those around us. A positive mindset can improve our own lives, and the lives of everyone around us.

Roopa Shetty

Head Mistress Pre-Primary