Do you feel my Stress

Have you ever been around someone that has been noticeably stressed and realized that yours starting to feel stressed for them?

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Like getting sick from being around someone that has that sickness, stress contagion is experiencing someone else’s stress without experiencing the thing or idea that is causing them to be stressed. Have you ever felt like being around your friend, High-Stress Joanna, is totally stressing you out!? What about feeling drained after someone discloses plot thickening details about their life story?  It might be likely that the emotional stress that they conveyed to you might have caused you to also feel their struggles without even experiencing them yourself!

This is totally normal. A recent scientific study has shown that merely being exposed to a video of someone demonstrating a stress response can lead to the presence of physiological markers associated to the experience of stress, namely an increase in the blood levels of cortisol 1. Cortisol is a hormone that is part of your body's long term fight-or-flight response by prolonging the effects of an ‘adrenaline rush’. The results of this study suggest that there might stress, like a cold, could be contagious and affect our bodies. 

Many other scientific studies have found similar effects of stress contagion, where the body's stress response was initiated as a result of seeing or being with someone who has experienced a socially stressful situation. 234 This effect has even been observed in mice! 5

One cool application of all these studies is if you consider the idea of herd immunity. In Herd Immunity, not everyone needs to be immune from a disease, because overall the herd is so resilient to the disease that it doesn't spread to the ones in the herd that aren't immune. The better people are at managing their own stress the less likely they are to "spread the stress" around to other people and the community as a whole benefits. So next time your considering skipping your self care (like leg days), just remember that it's not just good for you, but everyone else around you. Really, taking a de-stressing bath is community service when you put it that way. Overall, effective stress management can increase the community's collective resilience to stress to mitigate the effects that stress has on people's physical and mental health!

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Jacob Bedke

Jacob is a student at the University of Utah helping spread NeuroCAM awareness as a Guest Blogger Branchy

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Inspired By...

1. Engert, V., Plessow, F., Miller, R., Kirschbaum, C., & Singer, T. (2014). Cortisol increase in empathic stress is modulated by emotional closeness and observation modality. Psychoneuroendocrinology,45, 192-201. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.04.005

2. Buchanan, T. W., Bagley, S. L., Stansfield, R. B., & Preston, S. D. (2012). The empathic, physiological resonance of stress. Social Neuroscience, 7(2), 191-201. doi:10.1080/17470919.2011.588723

3. Dimitroff, S. J., Kardan, O., Necka, E. A., Decety, J., Berman, M. G., & Norman, G. J. (2017). Physiological dynamics of stress contagion. Scientific Reports, 7(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05811-1

4. Waters, S. F., West, T. V., & Mendes, W. B. (2014). Stress Contagion: Physiological Covariation Between Mothers and Infants. Psychological Science, 25(4), 934-942. doi:10.1177/0956797613518352

5. Carnevali, L., Montano, N., Statello, R., Coudé, G., Vacondio, F., Rivara, S., … Sgoifo, A. (2017). Social stress contagion in rats: Behavioural, autonomic and neuroendocrine correlates. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 82, 155-163. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.05.017