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What Is Second-Hand Anxiety & How to Protect Yourself from It


  1. What Is Second-Hand Anxiety?
  2. The Science of Spreading Stress
  3. The Effect of Second-hand Anxiety
  4. Signs of Second-Hand Anxiety
  5. How to Stop Second-hand Anxiety

Does your heart race when your child recounts a nerve-wracking event from their day? Do you experience a surge of anxiety when a friend opens up to you about their worries? Can your tension levels climb in response to a loved one's anxiety? If so, you're not alone.

This experience is known as second-hand anxiety, a phenomenon where we internalize the stress of those around us. Research indicates that merely observing someone expressing anger can spike our cortisol levels, our body's primary stress hormone, by 26%. We must acknowledge and address this type of stress.

In this article, we aim to delve deeper into the concept of second-hand anxiety, helping you better understand its effects, and most importantly, providing effective strategies to safeguard yourself from this type of stress.

What Is Second-Hand Anxiety?

This phenomenon of stress spreading is known as second-hand anxiety or second-hand stress. It's important to note that it is not a psychological diagnosis, illness, or disorder, but rather a neurological phenomenon that involves the spread of emotions.

By understanding the workings of second-hand anxiety, we can gain insights into the social aspects of emotions, which can help us stay calm when other people's negative emotions overwhelm us.

The Science of Spreading Stress

So, what triggers second-hand anxiety? The answer lies within our brains, in cells known as mirror neurons. These neurons fire off when we observe someone performing an action, which in turn, leads us to feel a kind of empathetic resonance. This is the very reason you might yawn when you see someone else yawning or why feel anxious when others around you are anxious.

Research has demonstrated that our bodies can echo emotions presented to us, whether it's the visible stress of a stranger on a screen or the anxiety of a loved one. In fact, this response is so innate that even the scent of sweat from a nervous individual can spike our stress levels.

The Effect of Second-hand Anxiety

Second-hand anxiety can pack a significant punch to our overall well-being. It can influence our nervous system, diminish our cognitive functions, and take away our drive and motivation. This type of anxiety can affect us both at work and at home, leading to several problems:

  1. It can cause us to become distracted, as we unconsciously prioritize the anxiety or stress of others over our own tasks and concerns. This shift in focus can lead to disorganization and productivity dips.
  2. It can leave us feeling fatigued and tired. Protecting ourselves from the stress and anxiety of others requires emotional energy, which can leave us feeling drained.
  3. It can create internal tension. If we don't find an outlet for this pent-up stress, we might inadvertently project it onto others.

Signs of Second-Hand Anxiety

Recognizing second-hand anxiety involves being aware of both emotional and physical symptoms that arise when you're around someone experiencing stress. These symptoms can range from emotional signs like feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and quick to anger to physical indicators such as trouble sleeping, excessive sweating, and digestive issues. But how do you know if what you're feeling is second-hand anxiety specifically? Here are some signs to look out for:

  1. You may find yourself stressed eating or drinking more when they are around, using food and drink as a means of self-soothing or coping with how you are feeling.
  2. Avoiding eye contact or frequently checking your phone during interactions can indicate discomfort with the anxiety-laden conversation or situation you're in.
  3. Fidgeting behaviors like foot tapping, leg bouncing, or nail biting can be subconscious responses to the stress you're absorbing. Notice if these actions occur more often around certain people or situations.
  4. Avoidance of specific people or situations can be a sign that you're subconsciously trying to reduce the stressors in your life.
  5. Experiencing tension headaches or excessive tiredness when or after interacting with certain individuals can be another sign.

How to Stop Second-hand Anxiety

Constant exposure to second-hand anxiety can have detrimental effects on your health. Here are some strategies to boost your emotional resilience and guard yourself against the impacts of second-hand anxiety:

    • Practice Empathic Listening: Offer a sympathetic ear and validate the feelings of others, but remember, their feelings are theirs to manage. You can offer support without taking on their anxiety by mentally and emotionally distancing yourself.
    • Establish Boundaries: We naturally wish to support the ones we care about, but sometimes, it's healthier to momentarily disengage to prevent negative emotions from escalating into conflicts. It's perfectly responsible for stepping away from a stressful situation until everyone involved can calm down.
    • Take a Break: Sometimes, a simple mental break can work wonders. Taking a few minutes to rest your mind and distance yourself from a tense situation can make you feel significantly better.
    • Use a Spinner Ring: Our spinner rings can be an excellent stress reliever. Movement, no matter how big or small, is associated with heightened vagal activity and relaxation response. The act of spinning the ring can stimulate the relaxation response, shifting your nervous system away from the stress-inducing fight-or-flight state.
  • Focus on an Object: Concentrating on a specific object, your breath, or a mantra can serve as an anchor during stressful times. It allows your body to reset and initiate your natural healing processes. Our spinner rings can be customized with your chosen mantras or quotes, turning an already comforting piece of jewelry into a personalized talisman of well-being to remind you to stay calm and keep stress or anxiety away.
  • Spread Positivity: Like stress and anxiety, joy and happiness are contagious emotions. So, why not harness our energies to spread positivity? Upholding and sharing a positive outlook through optimistic thoughts or spreading upbeat vibes, essentially shields us from second-hand anxiety. The power of positivity isn't just beneficial to you - it's an uplifting gift to those around you.

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