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Is stress contagious?

Are you the kind of boss who, when loaded down with stress and problems, shares those with your employees?

Or, do you keep the employees insulated from the problems and stresses you are carrying?

Is stress contagious?

Stress doesn’t feel good to have, nor does it feel good to be around.

Eighty percent of Americans say they feel stress during their day. In many organizations, stress feels baked into the work culture, even as everyone wonders what to do about it.

Like a contagion, stress spreads. We literally catch the stress of others. Simply watching someone else tense up can trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies.

Most of us think about the damage that stress causes us. Yet, few consider the negative impact that their stress has on others.

In fact, a leader’s stress is as acutely felt on the emotion of the entire team as the leader feels it.

That is why people avoid stressed-out colleagues for their own psychic protection.

If people don’t want to be around you, if they don’t find you energizing or rewarding to work with, you will be far less effective. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to collaborate with people who seem less stressed and more resilient?

Keep Stress from Spreading

To stop your stress from impacting others (and wearing you down), consider these steps.

  • Pinpoint your true stressors. When people talk about what stresses them, they tend to describe generalities like “my job” or “unrealistic deadlines” or “the new boss.” We don’t typically dive deeply into the triggers, because we’d rather not wallow there. However, we can’t solve what we don’t truly understand.

Through journaling or peer counseling, identify exactly what raises your stress level and look for solutions to eliminate it.

  • Change your reaction first and the workload second. You’ve probably seen how the very same job, with the very same workload, will stress one person while not bothering another.  It’s not your workload that causes stress. It is your attitude toward it that causes stress.  So, look for changes in attitude before focusing on changing your workload.
  • Don’t just say you’re stressed; share how you’re working to manage it. Because stress is so prevalent at work, we talk about it — a lot. While sharing our stress can make us feel better momentarily, we’re contributing to a stressful culture because emotion spreads.  Saying “I’m so stressed” increases stress for other people. Plus, what we focus on gets stronger, so we can even increase our stress by talking about it.
  • Plan for stress by planning around it. While most of us have accepted the idea of stress at work, we still feel surprisingly besieged by it. We can even have meta-stress — where we stress about having stress. Perhaps a better solution is to consider it the norm and plan for it. Jobs are stressful, industries are turbulent, and there are rarely enough resources or time. If that’s the case, how can you keep from adding to the churn and swirl? What are the ways you can sustain your energy and that of others?

The Bible

While there are things like stress, that we do not want to be contagious, there are many attitudes we do want to be contagious.  Joy, humility, love, caring for others, and positive outlooks are all attitudes that great mangers have and continually pass on to those that work around them.

One of the reputations of Christian people is that they all have a consistent attitude that they are recognized for and continuously infect others with.  In general, God teaches all believers to be faithful, supportive, and patient.

Philippians 2:5 says.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Business leaders and entrepreneurs need to know what they are infecting their employees with.  Some things, like stress,  are not good to pass on, and some things, like the messages of Jesus Christ, are life-saving and should be passed on at every opportunity.