Some Advice for Dealing with Secondhand Stress

By Harvard Business Review
November 20, 2018

If your colleagues are constantly stressed out, you’re more likely to suffer, too. These five tips can help you understand how their problems affect you.

Emotions are contagious. If you work with people who are happy and optimistic, you’re more likely to feel the same. The flip side is true, too; if your colleagues are constantly stressed out, you’re more likely to suffer.

Secondhand stress is nearly inescapable in this “hyperconnected world,” says Shawn Achor, a lecturer known for his research in the science of happiness. “Secondhand stress comes from verbal, nonverbal, and written communication.”

How do you avoid secondhand stress? Here are some strategies:

Identify the source: If certain members of your team are strained, try to understand what’s really going on. Ask them to describe what they’re experiencing. When people accurately label their emotions, they’re more likely to identify the source of their stress and do something about it.

RELATED: Want to Help a Stressed-Out Colleague? Here Are Some Suggestions

Offer assistance: By expressing compassion for your interlocutor’s concern and engaging him in positive conversation you can positively influence him, instead of solely letting him negatively affect you.

Take breaks from certain colleagues: It’s not always easy to be compassionate toward your office’s Negative Nancy. If you feel the person is starting to take a toll on you, limit your contact with anxiety-inducing colleagues.

Cultivate optimism: Positive emotions can be just as contagious as negative ones. Achor recommends acting as a role model by exuding positivity. Your goal is to create an environment where people feel confident.

RELATED: Another Way to Cope with Stress: Learn Something New

Take care of yourself: One of the best ways to ward off stress is to take impeccable care of your health. Eating well and getting plenty of exercise and sleep are critical to keeping stress at bay.

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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