Anxiety is all around us, and, if you’re like many, you feel more anxious now than ever before. There’s anxiety about what’s going on in the world, work changes, school cancellations, and ever-changing policies. You’re tired and overwhelmed; after weeks and months of feeling stress and hearing everyone’s worries, you are vulnerable to catching their anxiety, too.
Humans are wired to mirror and connect with each other’s feelings. Sometimes this means we absorb their feelings more than we should, increasing our own stress and anxiety. You may notice yourself talking faster, worrying more about your problems, and feeling jittery for no apparent reason. It’s important that you use this awareness to work on and improve your own immunity to contagious anxiety. Below are 5 suggestions that can help you feel stronger and more resilient.
1. Visualize a boundary. A helpful way for you to maintain your calm when another is anxious is called the "window-pane." Imagine a glass pane between you and the other person where their reaction cannot get through. This allows you to empathize with them, but not personalize their worry as your own.
2. Don’t be part of the spread of stress. Sometimes when we see someone else freaking out about something, our thoughts try to protect us and tell us we should be worried to. This is an automatic response that is part of the flight-or-flight reaction. Be aware of what is happening but pause instead of reacting. This allows you to redirect instead of becoming part of the stress.
3. Be a co-regulator of stress. Just as anxiety can spread, positive emotions can, too. You may have heard of self-regulation, but there is also co-regulation, where people work together to manage stress and anxiety. Seeing others who are calm and able to soothe themselves makes those around them calm as well. Begin deep breathing, slow your voice down, soften your voice, and roll your shoulders back. Those around you will naturally mimic your calm; practicing calm is a gift you give yourself and those around you.
4. Keep your personal anxiety low. One of the easiest ways to regulate and keep your anxiety low is to breathe, meditate, and walk. These three actions create endorphins, which are key to boosting your immunity to stress.
5. Create a transition from work to personal time. With so many people working from home, it’s more difficult to escape work anxiety and leave work at work. To help you define the line between work and your personal life, begin a daily ritual where you unplug after work and decompress to your personal time. Listening to an inspirational podcast or recalling the things you’re grateful for are wonderful ways to begin the transition into your personal time, leaving anxiety from the day behind.
Self-care is not selfish; it’s a necessary responsibility for strengthening your immunity to secondhand anxiety. Being part of the solution means knowing your boundaries and taking a break to care for your own emotional needs when you feel anxious. The better you take care of yourself, the more resilient you’ll be to contagious anxiety and the more positive you can be for others.