17th May 2018

The stress footprint:
when you unknowingly pick up stress from others

Modern life can be stressful and many of us react in the same way. We experience low energy, headaches, upset stomach, insomnia, and rapid heartbeat. Stress nowadays is seemingly common and is an emotion that many of us feel from time to time during our daily routines. But whilst a lot of focus is put on stress that we experience directly, another type of stress which been called second-hand stress, or the ‘stress footprint’, also deserves our attention.

The stress footprint is the second-hand stress that we unknowingly pick up from others, a sort of stress osmosis from those who are experiencing stress directly. Being social and empathetic creatures, we instinctively feel and sense other people’s emotions, such as joy and sadness. While this may often be a good thing, it seems that we are unconsciously picking up tension caused by feelings of stress from people around us, which in turn triggers stress in us. And the most worrying aspect is that most of the time we don’t even realise it. 

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Mark Rowland, Director of Fundraising and Communications at the Mental Health Foundation, carried out his own personal survey on the second-hand stress that he causes to his friends and family has revealed some fascinating insights. He realised that rather than reacting differently to different stressful events, he was reacting in the same way each time. In other words, he became aware that he was repeating the same actions, learnt from past behaviours, rather than trying to tackle each situation with different approaches. He also concluded that he was most likely to pass stress to his family when he was feeling anxious. Therefore, being able to manage our own anxiety can reduce the level of stress that we ‘spread’ around. Finally, he learned the value of saying ‘sorry’ to ease tense situations caused by his own reactions to stress. By acknowledging our frustrations and taking the time to apologize for the stress we cause to others, we are able to reconcile with people around us, thus preventing the build-up of stress to chronic levels. 

It is important, therefore, for all of us to take time to reflect on the situations that cause us the greatest anxiety, and to become conscious of how we react when we are stressed. We can then make an effort to change how we respond to anxiety, which not only decreases our stress levels but is also beneficial for the people around us. We can all reduce our stress footprint!

Solaris Health will be helping to raise funds for the Mental Health Foundation and raising awareness of mental health by holding a Curry & Chaat during this Mental Health Awareness Week, so look out for our follow-up blog on curries and mindfulness.