6 Ways to Identify Secondhand Stress - Dignify
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6 Ways to Identify Secondhand Stress

Wednesday, October 4, 2023 - Dignify

Stress is a huge problem in America, especially in the workplace. This is no secret – almost every single one of us deals with it on a daily basis. Statistics from Wrike shown by the American Institute of Stress indicate that 94% of workers reported experiencing stress in their workplace in 2019. That’s over 9 in 10 even before COVID and before the Great Resignation.

When we think of why we get stressed, our minds often go to situations instead of people. There may be a project with a tight deadline you’re dealing with. Maybe there’s a conflict between you and a co-worker on how something should be done. At home, you might be dealing with raising a child or trying to keep yourself on a tighter budget.

But what we don’t often think about is that we can experience stress just by being around other people who are stressed. That’s right – stress is contagious. This phenomenon is called Secondhand Stress.

The Statistics Behind the Phenomenon

Dr. Rumeet Billan explains that 26% of people displayed higher levels of stress hormones when they saw someone showing signs of stress. Billan further writes that the impact of Secondhand Stress can depend on the relationship you have with another person – 40% of people who saw their romantic partner stressed displayed signs of Secondhand Stress, while a reduced 24% of people showed those signs when seeing a stranger under stress.

A friend, acquaintance, or co-worker might sit somewhere in the middle of “romantic partner” and “stranger” from a statistical perspective here. With 94% of workers experiencing stress, you are almost certain to see someone display signs of stress every day, and there’s a non-negligible chance you would experience Secondhand Stress as a result. The likelihood increases for those who are motivated by people and/or have a strong sense of empathy.

Pinpointing the Problem

Because Secondhand Stress is still just stress – it is sometimes difficult to specifically identify because the symptoms have little to no difference. However, there are a variety of ways that you might be able to specifically identify Secondhand Stress, according to Bonnie Gifford. Here are a few:

  • You find yourself avoiding certain people or situations
  • You fidget (like pen clicking, tapping your feet, etc.) around someone or in a situation
  • You avoid directly engaging with someone (such as avoiding eye contact)
  • You experience headaches or a high degree of fatigue after dealing with someone
  • You skip out on something you’d normally like to avoid spending time with someone
  • You stress eat or stress drink around someone

Identifying Secondhand Stress can be difficult, but you’ll notice a pattern in each of the listed examples – they all involve other people. If you can’t pinpoint an immediate source of stress, you may suspect that it’s coming from an external source, such as other people. If you focus in on this, you might be able to identify one of those symptoms and narrow down who is causing you to have Secondhand Stress. In next week’s Wisdom on Wednesday post, we will go deeper into Secondhand Stress and what you can do to beat it.

“42 Worrying Workplace Stress Statistics” [Webpage]. 25 September, 2019. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/42-worrying-workplace-stress-statistics [Accessed September 13, 2023]

Billan, Rumeet. “How Secondhand Stress Affects Us” [Article]. 20 February, 2023. Women of Influence. https://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2023/02/20/secondhand-stress/ [Accessed September 13. 2023]

Gifford, Bonnie Evie. “What is secondhand stress and how do I get rid of it?” [Article]. 18 May, 2023. Happiful. https://happiful.com/what-is-secondhand-stress-and-how-do-i-get-rid-of-it [Accessed September 13, 2023]

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