can easily pick up secondhand stress from the people around
us. We also can pass it on.
ó Debra Safyre was standing in line waiting to order lunch
when she was hit by a sudden wave of anxiety.
was no reason for me to be triggered that way," she said.
"Then I noticed the person in front of me. She was
jittering so badly, shaking so badly, that I was responding to
her stress ó and I didnít even talk to her."
experience was not unusual.
stress ó tension that we pick up from the people and
activities around us ó is a natural defense mechanism that
helped keep our ancestors alive, said Dr. Amit Sood, an expert
on stress at the Mayo Clinic. But as soon as we pick up that
tension, we risk becoming carriers, passing it on to any
friends, family members or co-workers ó and, yes, even
strangers ó who we encounter.
travels in social networks," he said. "It is highly,
for Safyre, a former nurse and founder of Safyre Catalyst, a
Richfield, Minn.-based company focusing on personal and group
energy management, she quickly realized where her surprise
anxiety was coming from and was able to move away from its
kind of like a tuning fork," she said of secondary
tension. "When you hit a tuning fork, everything around
it starts vibrating with it. Itís the same thing with
stress. If stress is a very strong vibration around you, youíre
going to start reacting to it."
impact that secondhand stress has on us has only recently been
appreciated by psychologists, said Dr. Berendina Numan,
co-founder of the Center for Counseling and Stress Management,
with offices in Minneapolis and Minnetonka, Minn.
been only the last 10 years" that the topic has been
explored in much depth, she said. "There hasnít been
enough research to know all the answers about secondhand
do know that stress in small doses is essentially a good
thing, Sood said. Itís part of the bodyís warning system
that creates the fight-or-flight response and generates a
surge of energy that helps us deal with a crisis. But
excessive or prolonged stress can lead to health issues
ranging from headaches to heart problems.
oneself from secondhand stress begins with identifying its
causes, said Dana Kadue, owner of Life Flow Coaching in
first step is awareness of the things around me that create
stress in my life," said Kadue, who teaches a class
called "From Stress to Well-Being" for the Pathways
Minneapolis health resource center. "Itís all about
self-awareness, discovering when the stress shows up."
the investigation with whoís around at the time, suggested
Sood, who wrote the recently published "The Mayo Clinic
Guide to Stress-Free Living."
of us have partners, supervisors, colleagues or neighbors who
are stress-provoking," he said. "How do I recognize
these people? These are the people I feel judged by too much.
I feel anxious when Iím meeting them. I try to avoid being
with them. I find these people unpredictable. They often have
high expectations and I feel like I have to be perfect with
them; they are very rigid. And Iíve often found that many of
these people have different moral values than mine."
identified the problem people, you have three basic courses of
action: You can change them. You can get away from them. Or
you can learn to protect yourself from them.
first two have limited applicability. A person might be open
to constructive criticism about their behavior, but it must be
presented in a way that doesnít put them on the defensive,
Sood said. Even then, thereís no guarantee theyíll be
getting away from the irritant, thatís not always a viable
option, either, especially for someone whose stress is coming
from a boss or co-worker in a job they donít have the
financial wherewithal to leave.
brings us to the third option: learning how to avoid falling
resilience is something we can work on," Kadue said.
"Itís about responding to the stress rather than
reacting to it."
Kadue and Safyre recommend finding something supportive ó it
can be a photograph, a memory or an object like a bracelet ó
that generates pleasant thoughts that allow you to ground
yourself during a stress-inducing situation.
in touch with it so youíre not lost in their energy,"
Safyre said. "If you have a confrontation, tell yourself,
ĎIím not going to allow this to happen.í"
book, Sood outlines a number of coping mechanisms.
of them is that you can imagine yourself wearing either a
Teflon or a Velcro vest," he said. "If itís
Velcro, everything thatís thrown at you will stick. But if
itís Teflon, everything slides off. So if you have to have a
confrontation (with a stress-inducer), make sure you have your
Teflon vest on. You canít give that person the key to your
source of the stress is not always a person, Numan said.
"Sometimes just walking into a place that is set up
similar to one where you had a stressful experience will do
it," she said. Or it could be a sound or smell triggering
the reaction, Kadue said.
can be totally oblivious as to whatís causing the
stress," Safyre said. "Itís all about
investigating. Pay attention to how youíre responding. And
you have to be very observant" about whatís happening
at the time.
STORY CAN END HERE)
stress is an occupational hazard for some professions,
including counseling, medicine and even bartending. Itís
such a concern at the CenterPoint Massage & Shiatsu School
in St. Louis Park, Minn., that teaching how to avoid it
"is part of our whole curriculum," said
owner/instructor Ed Pelava.
lot of people come in for a massage with stress issues,"
he said. "Transference is a very big issue. We tell our
students over and over, ĎDonít let them dump that on you.í
Itís important to respond (to the person getting the
massage); you do want to show the client that you care about
them. But you also have to be vigilant on that. Donít absorb
easier said than done, he admitted. "We also teach the
students clearing exercises and relaxing techniques that they
can use between clients to remain grounded," he said.
wonít address stress issues for yourself, at least do it for
everyone else, Sood said. Stress we donít deal with gets
passed on to the people around us.
you take your stress home, your family is going to feel
it," he said. "Donít let that person throw you
into a tailspin."