Listen to me

Watch me

We have been looking at our mood and what things can positively and negatively impact us, last week we looked at bad and at this point, you may be thinking if that was bad, what’s ugly? The ugly is the consequences just like the issues that second-hand smoke can have, it can have the same or even a worse effect on the health of non-smokers. These negative second-hand emotions can have significant, long-lasting effects on the health and wellbeing of those experiencing them. The negativity just keeps beginning breathed into the core of who you are with every breath that you take and ultimately results in significant second-hand stress, which as you might expect, has the same effects on your mind and body as direct stress. The body experiences and interprets it as one and the same, you might be thinking are you sure about this? But let’s looks at an example of second-hand negative emotions, have you ever watched a scary movie and been on the edge of your seat and jumping at every sound, movement or noise not only on the TV but in your environment. This we know from the outset is just a movie and isn’t real but the physical impact is still as intense at times as a real experience.

There are lots of studies that show workers who deal with trauma victims on a regular basis often experience serious physical and emotional symptoms such as muscle tension, fatigue, low energy and depression. In addition, second-hand depression or second-hand anger can tear apart families, resulting often in divorce. The significant stressors that divorce often creates in the lives of estranged partners, children and close family can be at times be as dysfunctional and draining an atmosphere, that sucks up all the positive energy and replaces it with stress, unhappiness, and turmoil.

Well after learning this we are going to remove all negative people and situations and wrap ourselves with positive people and environments? Staying away from those that emit negativity? If only life was that simple hey, but this isn’t the case and at times we are unable to do this and we have to stay in these negative emotional environments. Much of the research shows that negative emotions are a lot easier to catch than positive ones. This could be linked to our fight, flight and freeze response as negative emotions are a sign of danger feelings such as pain, fear, and disgust was directly linked to our inner primaeval brain and the drive for survival. Those people who can pick up on someone else’s negative emotions are more likely to survive than those who don’t, as these early signals of what is happening around us can mean the difference between life or death.

Today, fortunately, we don’t have to worry about being surprised by the grizzly bear sizing up for as a tasty afternoon snack. Yet, we still need to connect to the emotions in the people and environment around and understand how others are feeling is a necessary skill to live in harmony and safety. For example, in a dangerous situation, or a conflict, or even in sports like rugby or boxing reading the emotions of others can be beneficial. The question becomes how we can learn to deal with these instincts so that they don’t have a negative impact on our well-being.

I think a very important part of this is to become much more aware of our natural instinct to mimic the emotional states of others so that we can use it to our advantage when we can and also then reduce its negative impact on our well-being when we need to. This is not about feeling unconnected with people or having no empathy for when people are having a hard time or about not relating to people and how they are feeling. What I’m saying is that you should become highly attuned to the effects that the emotional states of others are having on you and take care of yourself when you need to and to protect your own emotional well-being. Awareness is the key to this or we will just let things slide into our mind if we do this our mind just reacts to this instead of us choosing to say this is sad but this is not my sadness.

If you are the type of person who is more sensitive to other emotions and attentive to how people feel, people who connect with people you may be more at risk of catching other people’s emotions. In the studies, it shows that women can be more vulnerable to absorbing the stress and negativity of those around them because they are more often socialised to attend to the emotional needs of those around them and to want to please others, as more often they are the emotional caregiver to the children in their lives.  

Researchers also have investigated the characteristics of people who seem to be highly infectious, those who seem to pull others into what can be seen as an emotional orbit. The research suggests that these people tend to experience and convey strong emotions. They also tend to be relatively unaffected by or at least unresponsive to those around them who are showing emotions that are incompatible with their own. On the positive side, these are the people who are “the life of the party,” the people who always greet you with a smile and a kind word, the comedians in the room who seem to lift everyone’s mood. On the negative side, these are the chronic complainers, the toxicity in the group, the ones who drag everyone down. 

So now is the time for you to be aware to what is happening around you and how situations and people are making you feel. By being aware and observant to how you feel you can choose to let those feelings go instead of taking them on board.  Next week I will be looking at a few more ways to help you deflect from the negative emotions around you and keep you in a stronger more emotionally balanced mood. But stay alert to those negative emotions and work to see them as something in that situation or the emotions of the other person. Remember it takes time to form a new habit so practice makes perfect.

Thanks for dropping by Sara

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