Protecting Yourself Protects Others

While we’ve been discussing protecting ourselves from other people’s stress, our stress affects other people too. 

Just as we can pick up other people’s stress, they can pick up ours. When we talk about taking care of ourselves and putting measures in place to protect ourselves from stress, it’s not just for our benefit. It’s for ourselves and for everyone else around us. 

If you’ve ever wanted to start taking self-care more seriously, but have at times gotten the idea it’s a bit selfish or self-indulgent, I encourage you to to think about how your stress impacts everyone else as well. From your family to friends to coworkers and even mere acquaintances, our stress rubs off on those around us. By engaging in these strategies, we’re not only taking the time to care for ourselves, but taking the time to care for other people. 

Remember, we cannot control the world we live in. The world will always be a stressful place at times, and there are a myriad of things that remain outside our control. But we CAN empower ourselves by giving ourselves the right tools and resources to bring our best selves into the world.

Have you ever experienced secondhand stress? Tell me about it in the comments below!


If you are a stressed helping professional that spends your day serving others, you may need to spend extra care and attention filling your cup, and developing stress-management strategies. Get on the waitlist for my newest course The Cost of Care to learn how to prevent burnout and fall in love with helping again.

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3 Easy Strategies You Can Use to Protect Yourself From Secondhand Stress

Just like how you protect your immune system from secondhand smoke by hanging out in non-smoking areas, you also need to find strategies to protect your emotional immune system. Here are three simple strategies you can use to stop yourself from falling victim to secondhand stress!

1. Know Your Warning Signs

The first thing I want you to do is to understand your warning signs. When we experience heightened stress ourselves, our immune system weakens, and our emotional immune system weakens as well, leaving us more vulnerable to everyone else’s stress. So you’ve got to ask yourself the question, what does it look like when I start to get stressed?

Maybe you notice when you’re agitated with work, you’re not in the mood to talk with your friends and tend to withdraw. Or maybe you notice that after a particular stressful day, you don’t have the energy for your usual hobbies and instead opt for a Netflix binge session. Whatever it may be, start to take note of your ‘warning signs’ that give you a heads up you’re experiencing more stress.

When you notice yourself exhibiting these behaviors, you know it’s time to give yourself more tools for stress-relief and kick your self-care up a notch. By knowing your warning signs and recognizing them before things get too bad, you can be proactive in taking care of yourself.

2. Get Grounded

The second thing you’ll want to do to protect yourself from secondhand stress is get grounded. Getting grounded looks a little different for everyone, but my personal favorite way to ground myself is through my morning routine.

My routine consists of the same three things every morning, and allows me to show up as my best self for the day ahead. These three things are:

  1. Practicing breathing and stretching exercises
  2. Practicing my gratitude
  3. Setting an intention for my day

Part of what makes my morning routine so grounding is that I do all of these things before I check any messages – before reading emails, social media messages, checking texts or engaging with others. This is my sacred time for myself.

By doing these three things each morning before reacting to my day, I get to decide how my day is going to go and how I will spend it. I’m able to consciously make sure that I am proactively taking care of myself, and that I feel connected to my best self.

What feels grounding for me might be different than what feels grounding for you. Maybe your grounding morning routine includes spending time with your family, getting out in nature or engaging in certain hobbies you don’t usually have the time for. Make a list of what you feel more connected to yourself and the world around you, and then make a conscious effort to include those things in your daily routine.

3. Practice Positivity 

Lastly, you’re going to want to do your best to practice positivity. Pay attention to your who and what you’re engaging with and paying attention to.

Think back to your last conversation, the last video you watched, what you listen to on the radio, your podcasts, and the accounts you follow on Twitter. Take inventory of all of those interactions, to all of that content, and ask yourself: am I feeding myself more negativity, or more positivity?

If you notice that your information diet is more negative than positive, you need to intentionally find ways to insert more opportunities for positivity into your life. It’s important to remember that EVERYTHING you’re taking in is affecting you: from the books you read to the movies you to the accounts you follow. We may not have someone yell AT us, but watching an angry rant on YouTube where the creator yells through the screen can be just as damaging to our nervous system. We may not be witnessing our family or friends get into an argument, but our brain may read nasty comments of people arguing on social media in a similar fashion.

Monitor your interactions and do your best to bring more opportunity for positivity in your life, while trying to minimize opportunity for negativity.

 

What Is Secondary Stress?

Have you ever walked down the street and inhaled someone else’s smoke? We call that secondhand smoke, and research shows even though we may not be the ones smoking the cigarette, the effects can be devastating. 

In the field of stress management, we often reference a similar concept. Did you know that feelings of stress, negativity and uncertainty are actually contagious?

We’ve most likely all experienced this at one point or another. 

Perhaps you’ve ran into a friend who’s panicking about a test or interview they have coming up, and all of a sudden you have the jitters. Or you pick up the phone to call a friend, but they only want to rant about how much their husband’s bugging them, and you end the phone call feeling tired and drained. Or, on the other hand, you might run into a friend you just received some fantastic news, and their energy and excitement about the opportunity rubs off on you, leaving you with a little pep in your step.

The thing is, as human beings, we can quite literally pick up on and absorb one another’s emotions, just like we can take in secondhand smoke.

When you take on another person’s stress, experts refer to this phenomenon as secondhand stress, or secondary stress.

This is due to these teeny-tiny parts in our brain that share emotions, which scientists call mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are what allow us to emphasize with the feelings that someone else is having. 

On the one hand, this is a great thing, because we’re able to recognize what others are feeling and show up with empathy. But on the other hand, when we pick up on other people’s emotions, taking them in and absorbing them, it can actually impact our stress levels and our OWN nervous system. 

Are You At Risk For Secondary Stress?

If you work with stressed populations and have a lot of exposure to other people’s stress, you’re more susceptible to experiencing secondhand stress. Caretakers, mental health professionals, health care workers, social workers and teachers among others all belong to at-risk groups.

When your patients, students or those around you are constantly experiencing stress, and you spend your days in a high-stress environment, you begin to absorb that stress throughout your work day.

But the thing is, even if you don’t spend your entire day physically interacting with those experiencing stress, there’s a very high chance you could still be at risk.

In fact, research has shown that our brain can pick up on stressful situations just by smelling the sweat hormones that get released when someone near us is sweating. And in the ever-connected world we’re living in, you could even be experiencing secondhand stress digitally as you consume different media.

Think about everything you consume on a day-to-day basis, from watching the news and observing people’s body language, to scrolling through social media with watching other people expressing their emotions, to reading heated tweets and comments. All of this can expose us to other people’s stress and can have long-lasting, lingering, and very damaging impacts on both our physical and mental health.

Research has shown that 26% of people who are exposed to someone else’s stress experienced an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. And, that number actually rises to 40% of people when they are exposed to the stress of a loved one.

3 Ways to Strengthen Your Positive Perspective

Having a positive attitude and trying to apply a positive perspective can help in the process of responding to and overcoming hardship. Thinking positively may lessen feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression while increasing self-confidence. Consider these tips to help strengthen your positive perspective. 

 

1. Turn It Off 

The current media climate can make it very hard to remain optimistic. Limit your intake of the news, social media, and television. Seek credible and direct resources for absorbing important information.

 

2. 5 Faves

Take a moment to think about who you surround yourself with. I like to say we make up the average of the five people we surround ourselves with the most. Yes, negativity is contagious, but so is positivity! Add some grounded optimists to your network and notice the difference.

 

3. Watch Your Mouth

Do you tend to speak positively to yourself and others, or, are you judgmental and negative? Try to shift over to more positive thoughts and words. Practice using upbeat words and focus on the positive in every situation.