Relationship Stress: When Loved Ones Stress You Out

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We love our family and friends, but sometimes they can be unexpected sources of stress. When they experience stress we can often “catch” their anxiety like a germ. This type of stress is categorized as relationship stress.

Recent research shows that stress is a contagion that can spread from person to person much like a germ. But while a cold virus is transmitted through the air and physical touches, secondhand stress spreads quickly and over greater distances. Secondhand stress leads to the same stress symptoms like headaches, low energy, moodiness, and depression. Unfortunately, secondhand stress can be hard to shake when the source is a loved one.

The desire to comfort and help our fellow man is simple human nature. Frequent calls to a stressed friend who lives miles away can impact your stress. Trying to comfort a spouse who is facing work challenges or calm a rebellious child can cause you secondhand stress too. In fact, your stress could also be impacting your kids. In a 2009 University of Jyvaskyla, Finland study researchers studied contagious stress and how parents’ burnout affected their children. With over 500 participants they found that parents did in fact share their stress with their kids, which led to them experiencing school burnout.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to limit secondhand stress in your life without hurting the relationship.

Here are some Mindful Family® and Mindful Living® suggestions:

  1. Talk it out. Try having a conversation with the stressed individual. Letting the other person know that you are willing to work together to reduce their stress is important. Consider helping them brainstorm possible solutions to their problems. If you feel that they may need more professional advice help them find expert assistance.
  2. Work together. Consider working together to reduce stress. If your friend is unconsciously passing their stress onto you consider planning a joint meditation session or go for a run together to work off the extra stress. If stress is being passed back and forth in your family consider reducing stress together. Schedule fun activities together or watch a funny movie together to relieve tension.
  3. Take some personal time. When you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress consider taking a personal break to relax. Have an afternoon to yourself, take a relaxing bath, sleep in, or catch up on your favorite shows. You’ll be able to return the situation feeling refreshed.
  4. Evaluate your own stress. Don’t forget that your stress is also contagious. So, be mindful of how your stress may be affecting others in your life. Dealing with your own stress can keep it from spreading.