You might have perfected your ability to deal with stressful situations — deadlines, last-minute changes, the hustle and bustle of a busy office. But that doesn’t mean you’ve mastered the most challenging piece of the stress management puzzle: handling the contagious kind of stress that you can easily catch from an anxious co-worker.
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Contagious stress? It might sound like science fiction, something aliens would weaponize and use to paralyze office workers all over the planet. But the science of it is pretty simple, according to Heidi Hanna, author of Stressaholic: 5 Ways to Transform Your Relationship with Stress. In short, we’ve evolved to pick up cues that signal the approach of danger. And the body can’t differentiate between a co-worker who’s nervous because of an upcoming presentation — or an approaching tiger.
“Our brain is hard-wired to be on high alert to potential threats,” Hanna tells Entrepreneur. “Picking up these non-verbal physiological changes in a person near us is going to cause us to mirror that same response to protect ourselves.”
So how can you beat the stress response?
1. Be aware of what’s going on.
Feel nervous, when a moment ago you were calm, and there’s nothing wrong? Look around you for stressed people. You can’t change their behavior, but being aware of why you feel the way you do will help you take a step back.
2. Practice being calm.
Meditating or even just pausing to take a breath can really help keep you centered in your body. Plus, by taking a moment, you’re reminding yourself that you have control over your own response.
3. Encourage others to deal with their stress.
No one would suggest being that annoying person who yells, “CALM DOWN!” to anxious people in a crisis. But by modeling calm behavior yourself, and suggesting that other people rest and take care of themselves as well, you can help create a lower-stress culture in your office.
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