4 ways to fight secondhand stress.


During our winter break trip to NYC I found myself feeling stressed.

Not low-level stress, but full on frazzle the likes of which I’d not felt in a while.

I had my work for the year completed.

I had all the stuffs for the Child wrapped up before we departed Austin.

The GoldenDoodle was living the high life at home with a pet sitter he adored.

I was on an adventure where I shouldn’t have had anything on my mind but fun, frolicking and Fiddler.

And yet I felt like this:

Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 4.44.27 PM

I could not figure out why until the return flight to Austin.

As we settled into our seats the Child and I chatted about how flying used to be (expensive, fancy) versus what it was like now.

I told her how passengers used to smoke in-flight (!) and why we were no longer were allowed to do so.

As I explained the hazards of secondhand smoke it became clear to me what I’d struggled with during our trip.

I wasn’t stressed. I wasn’t frazzled. Someone else was.

What I’d experienced was virtually the same as being trapped in an airplane cabin with a smoker.

The only difference was my smoke was stress and I’d been repeatedly exposed to that secondhand “poison.”




mid-flight. post-realization.

The effects of secondhand stress are the same as chronic stress. H. Hanna

As soon as we landed I whipped out my iPhone, Googled and learned secondhand stress was, indeed, a recognized “thing.”

Scientific research shows if someone around you is anxious there’s a likelihood you’ll experience stress emotions, too.



My life research has shown if you’re frazzled and in my vicinity–I’ll feel flashes of frazzle as well.

Now that I’d learned secondhand stress existed–I needed to come up with a plan to combat it.

And so I did.

4 ways to fight secondhand stress:

1. Distance yourself physically/emotionally. Admittedly, the former is easier to do than the latter. I’ve also found it has immediate calming effects.  Around someone radiating stress? MOVE. Literally. Your stress level will decrease rapidly. The latter? The distancing emotionally? I’ll get back to you on that one. It’s a good idea in theory. I’ve not yet put it into practice.

2. “It’s not about me. It’s not about me.” This mantra is how I live my life. Do you dislike me for no apparent reason? I accept that and move on. I realize often it’s not about me at all. It’s a projection of your own reality upon me. It’s the same here. If I’ve done something to stress you—I take responsibility. If you’re stressed and I’ve attempted #3 to no avail (ooh foreshadowing!) –I remind myself it’s not about me. This has helped to increase my immunity to secondhand stress.

3. Try to get the stressed person to talk. This seems obvious, but often times the stress-producer doesn’t even realize she’s frazzled. Initiating conversation (about anything!) can diffuse the other person’s stress so you, in turn, feel better too. Pro-tip: Encouraging others to relax or destress can sometimes not be well received. If this happens remind yourself all you can control is you/your reactions to situations and revisit #2.

4. Shift my response (AKA when #2 and 3 don’t work) We cannot control whether other people are stressed/emit stressed out vibes in our presence. We *can* control our reactions.  I needed to shift how I responded (emotionally & physically) when surrounded by stress. For me this took the form of visualization (mentally seeing myself surrounded by a protective wall). For you it might take the form of “killing someone with kindness” or simply smiling at the stressed out individuals. Smiles release endorphins and are contagious like a yawns.

Admittedly, I’m a work in progress with my approach to secondhand stress and that’s OK.

For me the very realization emotions can spread like viruses has shifted both how I emote and how I interact with others.

This fact alone is a victory.

And you?

  • Have you experienced the impact of secondhand stress? How did you handle it?

The post 4 ways to fight secondhand stress. appeared first on Carla Birnberg.

This entry was published on January 12, 2016 at 2:58 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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