What is secondhand stress?
If you’ve ever gotten caught up in another person’s catastrophizing, you’ve experienced secondhand stress. Just as you yawn right after someone else does, your body is programmed to mirror the actions and emotions of other people. During secondhand stress, your body latches on to the negative vibes of someone else who’s under pressure and goes through the same fight or flight stress response. “Our stress response is so sensitive that if one person is sending cues to another person, the other starts to mimic that,” says Heidi Hanna, PhD, author of Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress. “It happens in person when a person walks into the room and you sense their stress through the things they’re saying, their facial cues, and their speech.” By recognizing who triggers your stress response, you can fight secondhand stress’s harmful effects and avoid these signs that stress is making you sick.
You feel stressed, but you’re not sure why
One telltale sign of secondhand stress is that you can’t quite put your finger on what’s making you anxious. In these cases, the source of your stress could be someone else around you passing on the pressure. “Normally that comes from the self, but in this case we’re just picking up on someone else’s false alarm,” says Joe Robinson, stress-management and productivity trainer and speaker for Optimal Performance Strategies. “We don’t think about it, which is what makes it very insidious.” Read about these scary things that happen to your brain when you’re stressed, and how to calm down.