According to the definition of the AIS, the American Institute of Stress, stress is a subjective phenomenon, an emotional and/or physical response that takes place following specific situations or a specific change, which make us unstable and anxious. So far, so good. What we tend to underestimate, though, are the results of some recent studies, which claim that stress can be spread to other people, as if it were contagious, because it generates a tension that might affect the brain of those who are close to us.
The environment that surrounds us every day, for example the place of work, can convey a kind of stress that stays with us even outside the office, and vice-versa. Personal stress too can have unpleasant and smothering effects on partners, friends and colleagues.
Hence, if you are stressed, you risk taking that emotional and relational burden from home to work, triggering and then fuelling a vicious circle. That is why it is paramount to recognise the behaviour one may have when stressed, in order to properly react to it and keep it in check.
Those who take the day’s stress to the household, constantly complaining about work, tend to be extremely self-centred and appear to give far more importance to their own issues. In these cases, it is necessary to step out of the spotlight and out of the shoes of the wretched lead character of some Greek tragedy. Remember that everyone can have a stressful day.
Another typical case is when the entire setting – again, the most likely one being the workplace – is permeated with dissatisfaction and requests that are very difficult to fulfil, or where a boss is everyone’s bugbear. In these situations, stress can become a way to let off steam, but easily passes from one employee to another, wearing everyone out and undermining mood, working relations among colleagues and productivity. The first thing you should do is take a step back, be professional and establish some unmistakable limits. Secondly, you need to work with your colleagues to find a way to unload the stress and forget about it: coded jokes about the boss or drinks after work.
However, some stressed people react differently. They tend to close themselves off, suddenly avoiding common interaction, even with friends. Making sure that such a behaviour does not become constant is crucial to avoid destabilising relationships. Stress is something we create in our minds: the same situation, for example, may be interpreted by someone as “a disaster that cannot be handled” or as “a problem that is bound to pass”, depending on the person’s mindset and how that situation is tackled. It is therefore helpful to focus on activities that allow you to retake your personal spaces, taking them back from paranoia, and turn them into anti-stress agents: sport, meditation, or writing your own personal diary. That can help you hold your own and keep your bearings.