Stress is any change that can cause physical, psychological, or emotional strain. It is our body’s response to anything that requires action or attention.
We all experience stress to some degree, and how we respond can affect our general well-being. It is unavoidable.
It could be getting a new apartment, losing one’s job or a loved one, or a medical condition that can induce stress in people. Often considered a personal turmoil, research claims that others can “catch” stress.
A 2014 paper in the journal, Psychoneuroendocrinology wrote that stress is transferable from one person in a stressful situation to another.
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Researchers claim that seeing another person under stress can make one’s body release Cortisol, a stress hormone.
According to the study, this phenomenon is called “empathetic stress,” occurring more readily when one sees a loved one or a dear friend in distress.
This doesn’t specifically apply to just family and friends. You can also experience it with total strangers. This can happen when one sees a stranger in anguish.
Tara Perrot, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Dalhousie University in Canada, spoke to Live Science, “It’s possible to [subconsciously] perceive another person’s emotions, especially negative ones.
In our evolutionary past, this would be selected to provide a non-verbal way to communicate danger and fear.”
A similar study in 2013, Current Biology, proposed that emotions can be “transferred” from one person to the next through “mirror neurons,” which are brain cells that get stimulated on seeing someone act.
The connection between panic and stress
A popular example is a yawn which prompts others nearby to mimic the action or pop the knuckles, and this can also trigger a person nearby to pop their knuckles instinctively.
A neuroscience professor from the University of Cambridge, Joe Herbert, explained, “If someone panics, they are under stress. Panic can spread throughout a community, just as fear or anxiety, regardless of whether there is a genuine cause.”
Interestingly, humans are not the only ones capable of mimicking emotions. “Other animals can perceive their species’ emotions,” Perrot said.
Perrot added, “For instance, rats that observe another rat undergoing stress show increases in stress hormone levels even without direct experience.”
“The stress response is hugely beneficial. It prepares our bodies and brains to handle the stressor at hand. If a lion runs at you, you would want a strong stress response that increases heart rate, liberates glucose from stores, and decreases non-essential functions like digestion,” he continued.
This means that stress is not as terrible as people make it out to be. It is quite useful in readying the body for situations that may be dangerous.
This doesn’t mean it is good to stress over every little matter. This is not healthy and may have adverse effects on the body.
“There are many daily hassles that people ultimately perceive as stressful, and their stress response can happen too often, which can be damaging to the body and brain,” Perrot stated.
Herbert explained that stress response is adaptive, meaning you can train the mind to react positively to stress.
On a final note, Herbert stated, “High empathy will increase the awareness of another’s emotion. How this affects the onlooker would depend on the circumstance.”
Herbert continued, “It might elicit aid, but it could be stressful depending on the demand placed on the second person. Good leaders and even parents can learn not to catch the stress of others, and instead, deal with the situation at hand.”
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