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Protect yourself from other people’s stress!

Toni-Ann DiSantis

Protect yourself from other people’s stress!

[Daily Dose] Did you know that there was once a “laughter epidemic” in a village in Tangankyika (now Tanzania), which lasted for months? That’s an extreme example of how contagious feelings can be! For our highly social species, smiles, yawns, and tears are catchy, too. And so is stress. If your partner has ever come home very tense at the end of the day and your head or stomach started hurting soon after, you weren’t imagining things. In a remarkable preliminary study, pairs of mice were separated and one was subjected to mild stress. When the mouse returned to its partner, it showed changes in neurons that are involved in the stress response. No surprise there. But the neurons in the mouse that hadn’t undergone stress showed identical changes. We are not mice, of course, but this experiment may help explain why stress is transferred easily between humans, too. How can you keep from “catching” stress? Start by being aware of the contagious nature of stress, and keep a collection of stress-management practices in your metaphorical back pocket. If you’re going to visit a family member who is frequently worked up about something (or everything), a little deep breathing before and after may help you to stay calm. By the same token, if you have a stressful day, take a brisk walk or go to a yoga class before you get home, if possible, rather than unloading on family members. Laughter is excellent medicine for stress, too, and don’t worry, it won’t lead to an epidemic!