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 brain cells called mirror neurons, we humans are hard-wired to feel what we notice others are feeling. Most often, this is based on facial expression, tone of voice and body language. In experiments at the University of Calgary, Jaideep Bains, PhD, and his team took this farther. They discovered that mice who had recently been subjected to stress could literally pass on their identical brain activity to mice who had not actually undergone the stress experience.
In other words, stress can be contagious.
We readily communicate our stress to others, sometimes without even knowing it. Click To Tweet
While human brains are more complex than those of mice, Bains suggests these findings do 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.
It can be useful to limit the amount of time you spend engaging with a stressed-out person close to you. If a time limit isn’t practical, schedule breaks to interrupt the stress cycle.
If caring for a family member, for example, make sure to set aside time throughout the week for yourself. You can also try spending time with someone whose attitude is uplifting.
2. Exercise compassion.
If you’re helping a friend through a tough time, obviously, they’re going to be stressed.
The key is to mindfully listen and provide accurate reflection back to your friend, without taking 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. Remind yourself that your role is to witness their emotions as neutrally and objectively as you can.
3. Make Calming Down Your First Priority.
Whether it’s your team on a hectic Monday morning, or you come home to find your partner in crisis, make a point to calm down first. When interacting with stressed-out people, 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. For example, if someone directs their stress into a rant aimed at you, 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. Wait 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 other stressed out people 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 when you’re “just venting,” it affects others, too. 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.
I unpack more of this topic in my podcast, Why You Need to Stop Managing Stress. And if you’d like a transcript of this recording, head over to the Free Members Resource Library and download it now.
Take good care : )
Such a good article!