Research has shown that emotions are contagious. We are constantly unconsciously catching & giving each other emotions.
When our family members, friends or co-workers are feeling joy or excitement, we are likely to pick up those feelings. In the same way, when they feel angry, irritable, overwhelmed, the emotions associated with stress, we are likely to pick up these emotions too, even if they are unspoken.
We don’t even need to be in the same physical space to pick up stress from others. We sense emotions through various cues such as visual - behaviours, gestures, posture & auditory - language, pace & tone of voice.
'Mirror Neurons' in our brain 'light up' when we do something ourselves, and also when we see someone else doing it. These neurons might play a key role in empathy - the ability to understand, sense and ‘feel’ what other people are feeling.
Empathy is undeniably a good thing, however, taking on other people's stress is not so good.
We might not be able to avoid emotional contagion, but being aware of it may help us manage second-hand stress.