There are some people out there who can rub you the wrong way – making you feel their stress, their negativity and their anxiety. For example, a grumpy sour friend, an unpredictable erratic colleague or a nagging toxic partner. Dealing with factors like these everyday can be taxing, but do you ever stop to wonder for a moment how this really makes you feel? Well, probably stressed out and tense just thinking about them. We've all been there – second-hand stress plants seeds of worry and anger in our mind.
When you're around positive people you connect and relate to him or her. When you're around the 'Debbie Downers', you're tense because you're picking up on their tension, maybe even trying to understand them, and it doesn't make you feel good thanks to your empathetic nature.
Empathy can be a wonderful thing, and it can protect us. Case in point: If someone is panicked because of a dangerous situation such as a fire, then we pick up on it, understand the situation, and we act accordingly. Empathy, though, can also be detrimental to our mental health. Repeated exposure to negativity can wear us out, exhaust us, and lead to stressful feelings and reactions such as headaches, stomachaches and muscle aches.
Second-hand stress facts
People who can't set boundaries are the most at risk to feel second-hand stress. These are people who involve themselves in several aspects of other peoples' lives. They have trouble saying 'no' and they are people pleasers. They may also have rescue fantasies and want to help others, even if it means at the expense of their own needs.
What's more, men and woman handle stress differently. Women tend to talk, confide and seek comfort from people. Men, though, are usually doers and will take action.
How to deal with secondary stress
There are a few methods you can use to help avoid taking on other peoples' stress and help you detach yourself from their negative, bad habits with worry and anxiety.
1. Put your needs first and foremost
Rather than trying to take care of everyone else, take care of yourself first. Being a little bit selfish can actually be good for your mental health.
2. Don't be a people pleaser
People pleasers often feel they are letting other people down if they say 'no'. It's OK to say 'no' – doing so doesn't make you a bad person or bad friend. It merely means that you have boundaries and you're keeping your own emotional wellbeing in check.
3. Manage your own stress
People who are stressed are more vulnerable to catching even more stress from others. Try to manage your own life, ideas and goals. When you feel like you are in control of you, you can take on other stress points easier in the long run. You come first.
4. Redirect the other person's stress
If a friend or colleague is talking to you endlessly about a problem they're having, be empathetic and then direct the conversation away from the emotional high stress. For example, if someone is complaining about a job they hate and dread, rather than letting the person continuously vent, do this: "I understand your job is difficult and you don't enjoy it. It doesn't feel good to have to go to a place where you're not happy. You have excellent skills. Have you updated your resume and considered sending it out?"
5. Don't engage negativity
Recognize that adding to negative talk will only lead to more stress. Think back to really cold Winters you've experienced. If you're like most people, you had a conversation about the long cold Winter. Did you complain about it or did you acknowledge it and look forward to Spring? If the former, then you helped reinforce negativity and perpetuate stress.
Next time you encounter stress, think about it – do you want to perpetuate it or be the antidote? It's time to let go of other people's worry and negativity and embrace the positivity in you. You deserve it.
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