Is Anxiety Contagious?

We all know that the flu is contagious. As is chicken pox. And yawns. But what about anxiety? Can you catch someone else’s stress? Is anxiety contagious?

The research says yes. A Gallup study found that, in the workplace, “well-being levels” among members of a team were directly correlated with one another. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that the tendency of anxiety to run in families is not related to genetics alone; living together is a key driver in anxiety, beyond the influence of genetics. The direction of this correlation remains unclear, though. Are parents passing their anxieties onto their children, or do anxious kids/teens worry their parents?

I would have also said yes to the question of whether or not anxiety is “catching,” even before reading this research. This has been true in my own experience. I have to give my mom a wide berth when we have family members coming over for a party (and not just because I want to avoid being assigned chores). When one of my roommates is stressed out, I find that I have a sense of floating anxiety, unconnected to anything that I can put my finger on.

Sneezing out particles of stress and anxiety.

Perhaps I should poll my roommates and family members if being around me stresses them out. After all, I tend to be an anxious person. I try to keep my anxieties isolated and away from those around me in order to avoid being a downer, but I’m sure I still leak stress all over the place.

I’m trying to work on two things related to the whole “catching stress” topic:

  1. Be less of a leaky stress-faucet myself.
  2. Be less of a stress-sponge, soaking up everyone else’s stress.

Also, maybe I should add a third goal: stop making so many kitchen-sink metaphors.

Are you a stress-faucet? A stress-sponge? Or both? If you’re neither, then please tell me how to be more like you!

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