A new study from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig and the Technische Universitat in Dresden, Germany, had found that stress is contagious. Just watching someone experience a stressful situation can raise our own levels of the stress hormone Cortisol by as much as 40% if we are in a relationship with that person, and by 10% when they are a stranger to us. The study found no differences between men and women. This means that even the most relaxed, stress free individuals can suffer second-hand stress on a regular basis. The solution is a radical expansion of awareness. This works on two levels.
Expand Self-Awareness: Second hand stress can feel first hand. Often we don’t realize the issue is with someone else, not us. Awareness begins by recognizing the source of stress. Take a few steps back from your feelings and pinpoint when the stress began. Was it when you witnessed someone else in a stressful situation? If it was, you now know why you’re feeling anxious, worried or up tight.
Radical Awareness: The next level of awareness is to open up to the peace and tranquility that comes through radical awareness. Take some deep breaths, close your eyes if you are in a place where that’s ok and focus your attention on your breath. Breathe slowly into your belly, knowing that your stress is the result of your natural human empathy. It’s not caused by anything in your life that you have to deal with. Relax into the peace that comes when you pull your attention inward.
What are your experiences of second-hand stress? How do you cope?