How to Spot and Avoid Secondhand Stress
Secondhand stress, just like the name implies, is when you start absorbing the feelings of stressed individuals around you. These could be coworkers, bosses, friends, or family members. In these situations, you can't make the other person stop feeling stressed, so you'll have to work on yourself to make sure you don't soak up that stress and treat it like your own.
Spotting Secondhand Stress
Look for typical symptoms of stress.The symptoms of secondhand stress are very much like normal symptoms of stress. Look for these signs as a first step towards identifying if you may be absorbing someone else's stress.
- Head or muscles aches.
- Increased fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Upset stomach.
- Anxiety or irritability.
- Lack of motivation.
Pause and think the next time you start to feel stressed.Identifying the root of your stress is crucial for understanding if you're suffering from secondhand stress. The next time you feel stress symptoms coming on, recognize them. Then you can analyze the situation and figure out what caused the feelings.
- Excuse yourself from the situation you were in. To analyze what happened, it would be helpful to be in a quiet place where no one will bother you. Especially if someone talking to you is causing the stress, you should remove yourself so you can think.
- Think about what you were doing when you started to feel stressed. Ask yourself specifically when you started feeling stressed. You might find that hearing your friend or coworker complain about something was your trigger. Or seeing your boss have an outburst after hearing bad news could have also set you off. If this is the case, you've identified that someone else is the root of your stress.
Keep a journal.When you're feeling stressed and having difficulty locking down a source for it, keeping a journal can help you focus your thoughts and narrow down what's troubling you. Commit to writing every day, even if it's only for a few minutes.
- Your journal can take on any structure or format you want, but in this case you may want to tailor your writings towards what's bothering you.
- Some initial questions to guide your writing might be: what am I feeling now? At what time recently did I feel stressed? What was I doing? How did I respond?
- Even after you figure out the cause of your stress, you don't have to quit writing. Keeping a journal is a great way to get out your feelings and keep your overall mental health in good shape.
Consider other sources of stress.Absorbing someone else's stress may not be the only reason you're feeling stressed. In fact, dealing with a stressed person can exacerbate the stress you're already feeling. Go through different aspects of your life and see if anything else is wrong. That way, you can not only remedy your problems with another individual, but also work to reduce your overall stress level by identifying other triggers in your life.
- Think about work. Have you been dissatisfied with your performance or your position?
- Think about your family. Is anyone sick or having problems? Are you having trouble paying your bills?
- If you're in school, are you feeling stressed from your workload?
Treating Secondhand Stress
Reduce or avoid exposure to the person causing you stress.The obvious cure for secondhand stress is to avoid that particular person. This isn't always easy, because a close friend or family member could be causing this stress. However, if the cause of your stress is only a casual acquaintance or coworker, you can limit your exposure to them without worrying about any personal repercussions.
Limit your time on social media.Some evidence indicates that heavy usage of social media can increase stress levels. Social networking encourages users to compare themselves to others, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy. It also makes bullying very easy. If you find yourself targeted on social media or keep comparing yourself to others, it would probably be best to cut down on your usage.
- You could block or unfollow the particular people who are causing trouble for you.
- You need to maintain a level of detachment from social media. Realize that people often try to make their lives more interesting than they really are, so comparing yourself to this ideal is unrealistic.
Ask if the source of your stress needs some help.Avoiding the cause of your stress isn't always possible, especially if that person is a family member or a coworker you interact with regularly. The person who is causing your secondhand stress may be going through a tough time themselves.
- Sometimes, people just need someone to talk to. Next time the person lashes out or exhibits signs of stress, ask if he or she wants to take a walk. Then, in a more informal setting, you can ask if everything is okay and if you can help at all.
- Do be careful not to take on more responsibilities than you can handle if this person asks you for help. Remember, you still have to take care of your own health.
Realize that other people's problems aren't your own.Treating other people's problems as your own is a main cause of secondhand stress. To avoid stress, you have to disconnect from other people's problems and avoid acting like they're your own.
- Of course this doesn't mean you shouldn't be sympathetic or sensitive to people's problems. You can still let them talk to you and offer advice. But don't let yourself get more involved than that, or you risk adopting other people's problems and stressing yourself.
Take breaks from the cause of your stress.If the person stressing you is a family member or close friend, you probably don't want to cut him or her out of your life. You still need breaks to keep yourself fresh, however. If this person is relying on you for help, then you need to be in a good mental state to help. By taking breaks and taking care of yourself, you can recharge your resolve and be a better help when you come back.
- Plan out some alone time where you can relax and unwind. Do whatever activity you enjoy and distracts you from stress.
Seek psychological help if you need it.In some cases, like with a sick family member, you can't just avoid the person causing your stress. The stress in these situations can be constant. If you're having trouble coping, try talking to a counselor or other mental health professional. He or she can teach you techniques to control your stress and give you an outlet to express your feelings and frustrations.
Reducing Your Overall Stress
Learn techniques to treat stress.In addition to the steps designed specifically to treat secondhand stress, you can learn some techniques to reduce your overall stress level. If you're unable to avoid the source of your stress, then these management techniques will be especially helpful.
Practice deep breathing.A common and powerful tool for reducing stress is deep breathing. By using the right techniques, you can effectively lower your stress level and come back to the problem relaxed and ready to work out a solution.
- Take breaths from your abdomen, not your chest. This will pull more oxygen into your body and help you relax. When breathing, place your hand on your stomach to make sure your abdomen rises and falls when you breathe. If it doesn't, you aren't breathing deeply enough.
- Sit up with your back straight. Alternatively, you could lie on the floor too.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take in as much air as you can, and then exhale until your lungs are completely empty.
Get active.Physical activity helps de-stress the body by distracting your brain and releasing endorphins. Include more physical activity in your life if you've been feeling stressed. Even a few minutes of exercise has been shown to have a positive affect on stress levels.
- Aerobic activities like running or biking tend to be better for stress reduction, though all activity is good.
- If you don't enjoy working out, there are plenty of other physical activities you can do. Try going for a walk, swimming, working outside, or any other activities you enjoy that get you moving.
Adjust your diet.You might be making your stress worse without even realizing it. A number of foods and drinks can exacerbate stress. By cutting out certain things and including others, you can benefit your stress level and overall health.
- Caffeine causes your heart rate to go up, which makes stress worse. If you drink several caffeinated beverages daily, try to cut down on your intake to lower your stress levels.
- Sugary foods have a similar effect on your health and stress levels because they raise your heart rate.
- Alcohol also makes stress worse. If you drink regularly, you should cut back to benefit your overall health.
- Foods that have a beneficial effect on stress are whole grains, almonds, pure dark chocolate (the every dark kind, without much added sugar), and berries.
Get plenty of sleep.Lack of sleep makes stress much worse. Without adequate sleep, the body doesn't properly rest and repair itself. Commit to getting a full 8 hours of sleep every night. Not only will your stress levels go down, but your overall health will benefit.
Practice positive self-talk.Often when people feel stressed, they start talking to themselves negatively. This makes their moods even worse. Avoid this trap by practicing positive self-talk.
- When you're feeling stressed out, use phrases like "I can make it through this," and "These feelings will pass."
- Work to eliminate negative thinking. When these kinds of thoughts enter your mind, stop and isolate them. Then replace them with a positive spin. For example, if you're stressed with school and you tell yourself, "I'll never finish all this work," replace that thought with "I have a lot of work, but I'm capable of finishing it by tomorrow."
- Practice meditation. This can help to build up your resilience against stressful people and situations.
- Children can suffer from secondhand stress too, especially if you pile expectations on them. Do your best to not show your stress in front of your children, or you risk them absorbing it.
- Some of the side effects of secondhand stress include raised blood pressure, impaired digestion, insomnia, depression, fatigue, tension and poor memory.
- If secondhand stress raises your awareness of issues in your own life, thinking them through and taking appropriate action is the way to handle it. If your second hand stress source is talking about an abusive situation that parallels your own, your stress isn't entirely secondhand. Look honestly at yourself and others to see where stress is coming from. Sorting out multiple stress sources makes it much easier to handle all of them one at a time.
Sources and Citations
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Video: Secondhand Stress
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