If you work with stressed populations and have a lot of exposure to other people’s stress, you’re more susceptible to experiencing secondhand stress. Caretakers, mental health professionals, health care workers, social workers and teachers among others all belong to at-risk groups.
When your patients, students or those around you are constantly experiencing stress, and you spend your days in a high-stress environment, you begin to absorb that stress throughout your work day.
But the thing is, even if you don’t spend your entire day physically interacting with those experiencing stress, there’s a very high chance you could still be at risk.
In fact, research has shown that our brain can pick up on stressful situations just by smelling the sweat hormones that get released when someone near us is sweating. And in the ever-connected world we’re living in, you could even be experiencing secondhand stress digitally as you consume different media.
Think about everything you consume on a day-to-day basis, from watching the news and observing people’s body language, to scrolling through social media with watching other people expressing their emotions, to reading heated tweets and comments. All of this can expose us to other people’s stress and can have long-lasting, lingering, and very damaging impacts on both our physical and mental health.
Research has shown that 26% of people who are exposed to someone else’s stress experienced an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. And, that number actually rises to 40% of people when they are exposed to the stress of a loved one.