Work Hazard: Beware of Secondhand Stress
Feeling stressed at work and not sure why? Maybe you’ve caught a co-workers stress. Indirect stress is a dangerous health hazard, especially at work.
Stress pollutes offices, creating a toxic, less productive environment. When a boss or coworker is stressed they become moody and less cooperative. This affects others, creating a chain reaction. Dr. Elaine C. Hatfield of the University of Hawaii has been researching “emotional contagions” since the 1990’s. She has found that in close environments the human brain absorbs “emotions, behavioral traits, and facial expressions” from others, making cubicle offices hazardous for secondhand stress. People also unconsciously mimic the physical behaviors of their stressed coworkers or employer, causing them to frown or slouch too.
Secondhand Stress Tips
Fortunately, there are simple cures for secondhand stress. Some suggestions are listed below.
- Avoid your source of stress. Does a particular coworker or regular customer add stress to your day? You can limit your exposure to secondhand stress by reducing your contact with the stressed individual, if possible. Instead, consider forming new friendships at work and bonding with more positive people instead.
- Take action. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid a particular person in the office. Maybe you work together on projects or maybe you share a workspace with them. Whatever the situation there is no reason to get discouraged. Instead, try having a conversation with the stressed individual. Sometimes giving a person the chance to talk about their stress can help them relax, which will help lower your stress. If they are stressed about something work-related consider asking if there is anything you can do to help. Just be sure to set limits as taking on the bulk of their stress will only stress you more.
- Get some alone time. Sometimes taking a step back from a stressful situation can be great for work stress. So consider taking personal breaks where you can relax and unwind. Try having a stress-relieving snack in the break room. Take a walk around the block for some fresh air or share a laugh with a positive coworker. You’ll be able to return the situation feeling refreshed.
- Evaluate your own stress. Don’t forget that your stress is also contagious. So, be mindful of how your stress may be affecting others in your life. Dealing with your own stress can keep it from spreading.