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.
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:
- Be less of a leaky stress-faucet myself.
- 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!