Is Stress Contagious?

I have written about the dangers and damage of stress and the importance of coping with it in a healthy way numerous times here. Type the word stress in the search box at the right for further details.

It seems that dealing with our own stress is only half the battle. Stress is contagious.


“Observing another person in a stressful situation can be enough to make our own bodies release the stress hormone cortisol. This is the conclusion reached by scientists involved in a large-scale cooperation project between the departments of Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and Clemens Kirschbaum at the Technische Universität Dresden. Empathic stress arose primarily when the observer and stressed individual were partners in a couple relationship and the stressful situation could be directly observed through a one-way mirror. However, even the observation of stressed strangers via video transmission was enough to put some people on red alert,” according to a press release from Dresden.

“Thus, individuals working as caregivers or the family members of chronically stressed individuals have an increased risk to suffer from the potentially harmful consequences of empathic stress. Anyone who is confronted with the suffering and stress of another person, particularly when sustained, has a higher risk of being affected by it themselves.”

Emotional closeness is a facilitator, but not a necessary condition for the occurrence of empathic stress. As high as 40 percent of the test individuals felt stress when their partner was under fire. The number fell to 10 percent in the case of a complete stranger under duress.

“The results of the study also debunked a common prejudice: men and women actually experience empathic stress reactions with equal frequency. ‘In surveys however, women tend to assess themselves as being more empathic compared to men’s self-assessments. This self-perception does not seem to hold if probed by implicit measures.’”

I want to conclude this post with one specific recommendation: Some Super Tools for Handling Stress. I wrote this a while back, but it is loaded with good info handling stressors. Dealing with stress intellectually is always more effective than the emotional way. A pint of Rocky Road is not the answer.



Filed under relaxation, stress

4 responses to “Is Stress Contagious?

  1. Always love to read your posts Tony, such my information to think about.


  2. Yes, I believe this is true. When I am going through something stressful my wife will be paying close attention to me and often trying to reasure me that everything will be OK. On the other hand when my wife is going through something stressful I am mostly quiet, but constantly trying to come up with a solution to the problem. In other words, I don’t show my stress, but am feeling it internally.


    • I understand what you are saying and that (I believe) is what makes people in good relationships live longer. The interesting aspect about this is that while the empathic partner suffers some stress he/she likely is helping the stressed partner to deal with it, thereby reducing the impact on the ‘injured’ party. In other words, the couple benefits from this on balance even though it appears there is more stress.


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