Stress is contagious

This interesting article published in the Harvard Busines Review, highlighted to me on Twitter by a friend Shibley Rahman @dr_shibley recently, titled Make Yourself Immune to Secondhand Stress, (2015), has reminded me that our moods (and responses) affect others.

It is especially important when someone has dementia, either living with others at home, or in aged care or a hospital. As I’ve been thinking about this, it is of course, fairly obvious. However, it is often not taken into consideration by others. Dementia is instead blamed for our normal human responses.

Your brain picks up the fatigue response of someone sitting on the other side of the room. But it’s not just smiles and yawns that spread. We can pick up negativity, stress, and uncertainty like secondhand smoke. Researchers Howard Friedman and Ronald Riggio from the University of California, Riverside found that if someone in your visual field is anxious and highly expressive — either verbally or non-verbally — there’s a high likelihood you’ll experience those emotions as well, negatively impacting your brain’s performance.

For anyone with children, we know this is little different to the way our children are negative and unhappy when we are, or respond adversely to being told off, or criticised, as opposed to how they respond when they are praised and helped to feel appreciated. If we are stressed, they almost always pick up on it, and react to it.

Stress is the body’s way of responding to demand or pressures, and can be caused by both good and bad experiences. In many cases stress is a healthy reaction as it helps us cope with life’s challenges. However too much stress, or prolonged stress can seriously affect our physical and mental health.

Stress is contagious… just like the Coronavirus, although hopefully not as deadly!

Contagious [means just that!]
  1. (of a disease) spread from one person or organism to another, typically by direct contact “a contagious disease”
  2. (of an emotion, feeling, or attitude) likely to spread to and affect others “her enthusiasm is contagious” or “his misery is contagious”

It is obvious if a care partner is unhappy about his or her new roles, and their lost employment or social life due to supporting someone with dementia, the person diagnosed with dementia will pick up on this.

I’ve heard said many times “I hate my role caring for XXXXX”. I often think (not the dementia) we are almost hated, not for having dementia, but for being the reason a carepartner or our family member has given up their pre-diagnosis life to support us.

Of course, people with dementia have all been forced to give up their pre diagnosis lives too.

The suffering of care partners is often far greater than many of us with dementia would claim to experience, in fact, a great many includng me, totally reject the notion of suffering due to the diagnosis of dementia.

When I wrote that I thought the language of dementia was slowly changing a few years ago, I’m not actually sure it is yet, or, maybe just not as quickly as advocates would like. But I am sure that a person’s stress is contagious, and it it’s not well managed, seriously – and negatively – impacts relationships and responses.

2 thoughts on “Stress is contagious

  1. So well said. Stress has become a part of our lives, and it’s very damaging. I love that you reject the notion of suffering simply due to your dementia, Kate. Suffering is a state of mind and it rarely has one cause, anyway. I wanted to add that if stress is a virus, so is laughter! And love. When someone enters the room with a heart full of love and a voice full of laughter, the whole environment changes. If we can get into the flow of positive energy — care partners and people living with dementia alike — this can be a more joyous journey together, not a challenging journey apart. Stay safe!


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