Do I Feel Your Stress? read on…

“It’s not my problem.” Surely you have said that. I have, and I hear it all the fillette effrayéetime from friends, family or clients who are hoping to keep someone else’s trouble, stress, or drama away from them. By saying, “it’s not my problem”, we hope to gain some distance. Maybe there is nothing we can do so, we need to accept our own helplessness in the situation. Maybe we need some protection from the emotions or chaos. Whatever our motivation, TOO BAD, IT DOESN’T WORK.

Stress is transmitted although no one is quite sure of the mechanism. A recent study in Germany confirms this notion. The researchers were from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and Dresden University of Technology in Germany. Subjects watched others (either a stranger or a loved one) under artificial stressful conditions such as a mock job interview or mental arithmetic. People who were emotionally closest to each other demonstrated the highest levels of empathic stress. No surprise there. But, not close to the person undergoing stress? Well, observers of videos that showed strangers under stress were also affected. The study measured the activation of the stress hormone in peoples’ bodies and saw the hormone rise. Not everybody, but around one in four “observers” (26%) experienced heightened stress levels – measured using salivary cortisol levels – when watching the “targets”. Not surprisingly, the observer was more likely to be stressed if the person they were watching was their partner (40% of observers becoming stressed) rather than a stranger (10%). Also, contrary to popular opinion, both men and women felt stress by being in the presence of other people’s stress.

It would be very interesting to compare the observers who became stressed with those who did not and see if there are other differences in personality, mental health, age, etc. Think about the implications for watching TV, movies, internet, friendships or family gatherings. A bit scary, yes? No wonder I still like Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn movies.

Source: Engert et al 2014 published in the medical journal Psychoneuroendocrinology

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