You know you can catch a cold or the flu from someone—especially someone you're close with. And apparently, the same goes for stress. A recent study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology finds that stress can be contagious, and it's even more infectious when someone you love is experiencing it.
Researchers in Germany studied over 150 pairs of participants: Each pairing had a man and a woman, some of whom were in a relationship with each other, while others were total strangers.
The researchers had one participant in each pairing do stressful activities (like give a mock work presentation or complete challenging math problems) while the other member of the pair watched—either live through a one-way mirror or virtually via video transmission. Then both members of each pair were tested for physiological stress reactions.
Overall, 26 percent of the observers showed significant increases in cortisol, the stress hormone. And it turns out that their relationship to the stressed person made a difference: 40 percent of the observers who watched their partners saw a spike in cortisol while only 10 percent of observers who watched a stranger saw an increase.
Interestingly, how you observe stress is also important. More observers experienced a stress reaction when watching partners live through a mirror than those who watched via video. "This means that even television [programs] depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers," said study author Veronika Engert, Ph.D., in a press release. "Stress has enormous contagion potential." (To which we say, "Damn you,Scandal!")
So if you're reading this and thinking, "Hold up: But my friends and family get frazzled so easily!" (or, you know, "Hold up: I watch a lot of Scandal!"), then you might want to read up on these five ways to regain your sense of inner calm, these five get-some-peace breathing exercises, and these fourrelaxing, restorative yoga poses.