may not realize it, but your stress level could be negatively
affecting those people who are closest to you. Secondhand stress is on
the rise, but there are steps you can take to counteract it.
stress is defined as the unconscious absorption of negative emotions,
usually from people closest to you. Before you say that you’re not
affected, consider the following:
• Your work
colleague is constantly complaining about the job. Watching him stress
out causes secondhand stress for you.
• Your spouse
is overwhelmed with caring for an aging parent. That stress is
transferred to you.
• A friend is
always negative and angry. Her anger triggers anger in you.
mostly among health care providers, secondhand stress now is more
often seen outside of the medical profession by people who may not
know how much they’re being affected.
definitely creep up on you," according to clinical psychologist
Dr. Mary Lynn Mack of Pewaukee. "People need to take a more
assertive stance to deal with it."
Women can be
more susceptible to secondhand stress, especially those who feel
obligated to constantly care for people and to soothe others’ pain.
The desire to be there for others even when you’re feeling stretched
yourself can open you up to taking on people’s burdens and negative
feelings. The more empathetic a person is, the more likely he or she
will suffer secondhand stress.
One type of
person at risk for secondhand stress may be those "addicted to
adrenaline." Watching certain TV shows or videos showing bad news
in vivid detail may be exciting, but it can increase viewers’ stress
level without them realizing it.
secondhand stress mimic post-traumatic stress disorder: sleeplessness,
anxiety, loss of appetite, isolation, exhaustion, inability to focus
Mack says there
are three steps in dealing with secondhand stress.
First, there is
what she calls the non-negotiables: Pay attention to nutrition and get
plenty of sleep.
social support. Friends, co-workers and relatives can help you
de-stress. And finally, disengage. Make sure you have a hobby or a
passion and make time to enjoy it.
secondhand stress becoming more prevalent?
highly competitive culture," Mack says. "We must constantly
be producing and doing." Social media and technology are also
reasons. "Technology helps us, but is a barrier to enjoying other
aspects of life like hobbies or friends," she says.
that fight stress
certain foods and eating well will help you feel healthier, and
then you can handle the stress better," says Dr. Kit
Werner, a nutritional sciences clinical director at
UW-Milwaukee. "Good nutrition as a whole will help you
foods are better than others when it comes to stress:
Oranges, red peppers, strawberries: The vitamin C eases feelings
milk: The calcium reduces both tension and muscle spasms.
Salmon: The omega-3 helps keep adrenaline at a reasonable level.
Spinach, chard, kale: They’re magnesium-heavy, which promotes
normal nerve and muscle function.
Almonds, pistachios, walnuts: The vitamin E is an antioxidant
that improves the immune system to better help fight stress.
Dark-colored fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots,
apricots: They contain vitamin A, which, like vitamin E,
regulates the immune system.
contrary to what we would like to believe, Oreos, ice cream and
other comfort foods are not the answer. "The occasional
cheeseburger is pleasurable," Werner says. "It takes
your mind off the stress." But in the long term, too much
comfort food will only add more stress to the body. Werner says
the key to handling stress with diet is to fortify the body, to
help it to fight the effects of stress: "If you don’t
listen to your body, your body will make you pay."