Second-hand stress is the kind of stress that doesn’t belong to your life, but that you get from being ‘contaminated’ by a stressful person, event or situation. Turn on the TV, and there it is, as you watch the news and feel the anxiety rising. At the office, it is everywhere – with frantic people sharing their stress like there is no tomorrow. And driving? Of course, all those aggressive drivers transmit gleefully their stress.
So YOU get second-hand stress – and you give it away, too, any time your stress level gets out of hand and you feel overwhelmed and powerless, lash out or micromanage, or just walk into a room with a little black cloud over your head for everyone to see.
Second-hand stress might not belong to your life, but you easily cross-contaminate, transmitting and receiving it without even being aware, in three ways:
- Through mirror-neurons in the frontal cortex, you ‘read’ stress in other people – a million-year old survival strategy, so that if someone nearby has seen imminent danger, you can act without having to experience it
- Through stress pheromones, you unconsciously smell the stress on other people
- Through subtle facial and body language, you see and hear stress
Second-hand stress adds significantly to your stress level. Our society fuels itself with stress – it’s fashionable to be stressed; it makes us feel busy, useful and efficient. The flip side is that it makes you feel like you are never fast enough, good enough, perfect enough to relax. There is always one more thing, another deadline, more work. And when you feel too tired to go on? Coffee to help you regain enough stress to function in a stressed-out environment. Lack of sleep makes you more vulnerable to ANY stressor, including second-hand stress.
Stress is highly addictive – It makes us feel energized and motivated when we’ve got nothing left. Coffee and ‘energy’ drinks are in fact ‘stress’ drinks that give you that jolt so you can get further, when there is nothing left. It’s a costly strategy, and like running your car without oil, you will burn out quickly – your body and your mind can’t work for long under high chronic stress.
Here are a few suggestions: take a second-hand stress break, today.
- Unplug yourself from all electronics when you are home – no more interruptions from your BlackBerry, or the phone.
- Get more sleep tonight – avoid watching the news or checking your BB at bedtime
- When someone or something stresses you out, step away – at least mentally.
- Be more aware of what stress you can avoid (it’s not only about managing stress, avoiding stress works even better).
- No more than two cups (an 8 oz cup!) of coffee or other caffeine-based drinks today.
- Take a break; go outdoors for a short walk – even 10 minutes can help
- Take a moment to look up, take in the scenery and just breathe deeply.
Taking a break from second-hand stress allows you to replenish calm, focused energy.