Use these 7 tips to Remain Calm Instead
Have you ever noticed that being around stressed-out people makes you feel stressed out too?
- Your son is anxious about his new job, and by the end of your meal together, you feel tense.
- Your friend won’t let up about her annoying neighbor, and pretty soon you can’t quite shake that annoyance yourself.
- An agitated coworker is clicking her pen, and before you know it your heart rate is up.
Thanks to certain brain cells called mirror neurons, we humans are hard-wired to literally feel what we notice others are feeling, based on their facial expression, tone of voice and body language.
In experiments at the University of Calgary, Jaideep Bains, PhD, and his team discovered that the brain activity of mice who had recently been subjected to mild stress could literally pass on the identical brain activity to mice who had not actually undergone the stress experience.
In other words, stress can be contagious.
While human brains are more complex than those of mice, Bains suggests these findings extend to us as well. He concludes that “we readily communicate our stress to others, sometimes without even knowing it. There is even evidence that some symptoms of stress can persist in family and loved ones of individuals who suffer from PTSD. On the flip side, the ability to sense another’s emotional state is a key part of creating and building social bonds.”
So, how do we avoid taking on someone else’s stress while building and maintaining our social bonds with that person?
Tips to Avoid Taking on the Stress of Others
1. Give yourself a break.
When engaging with a stressed-out individual close to you, it can be useful to limit the amount of time you spend with that person. If a time limit isn’t practical, make sure to schedule breaks periodically in order to interrupt the stress cycle.
If caring for a family member, for example, make sure to set aside time throughout the week for yourself. Try spending time with someone whose attitude is uplifting.
2. Exercise compassion.
While it may work to remove yourself from a tense situation with a stranger at the grocery store, the reality is that if you’re helping a friend through a tough time, obviously, they’re going to be stressed.
The key here is to mindfully listen and provide accurate reflection back to your friend, rather than take on their emotional burden. Remind yourself that it is their grief or worry – not yours. You are there to support them with your loving presence, which is not achieved by imagining yourself in their situation or trying to process their emotions as if they were your own. Remind yourself that your role is to witness their emotions as neutrally and objectively as you can.
3. Make Calming Down Your First Priority.
When you’re interacting with stressed-out people, whether it’s your team on a hectic Monday morning, or coming home to find your partner in crisis, make a point to calm down first to ensure you’re balanced before trying to address whatever is happening. Check in with your body throughout the interaction. Are you breathing? Are you noticing your muscular tension and using your breath to release it? Intentional breathing reduces your brain’s stress response and helps you think more clearly and rationally.
4. Give yourself permission to NOT respond.
As I like to say (and often remind myself): don’t interact with what is toxic. If someone directs their stress into a rant aimed at you, for example, do your best to stay calm. You are under no obligation to respond to anything they are saying.
If this is someone with authority over you, like a boss, simply say that you’ll look into the matter and get back to them. If responding immediately is absolutely required, keep it noncommittal and to a minimum until you can calm down enough to clear your head and formulate your most constructive response.
5. Slow down.
Stress, any stress, makes us want to speed up. So, when the stress of others is prompting you to rush, slow down and focus on your breathing instead. Remind yourself that rushing through things is likely to result in undesirable consequences you might be able to avoid if you slow down and think things through.
6. Stop and wait.
When you’re being pressured by the stress of others to act impulsively or make a hasty decision – simply (or as simply as possible) stop. Tell the other person you’d like some time to think about it, or even sleep on it. This buys both of you time to let your reactions subside rather than making a decision based on your emotional reactions. Making decisions in your long-term best interests requires a calm space where you can wait until your mind is quiet enough to listen to your inner wisdom.
7. Be aware of the impact your stress has on others.
Be aware that others are affected when you’re “just venting.” So, when you feel stressed, make it a rule to slow down and calm down before you share. Whether you’re dealing with a stranger or someone close to you, be aware that their mirror neurons are also reflecting your emotions. It’s not that you should attempt to hide how you authentically feel – just be aware that your emotions are having an impact, and some of what you are witnessing in them may actually be a reflection of your own reactivity.
Take good care : )
1. Is Your Stress Changing My Brain? Science Daily. March 8, 2018.