Stress: Warning! Highly Contagious! By Alex Rees

Remember that time a few weeks ago when you started off the day feeling really calm, collected, in control and almost as if you were floating on a cloud above the fuss of daily life? And then you got in your car/ on the tube/ into work and within about 3.6 seconds, someone else’s stress had entirely ruined your equilibrium?


We’ve all had those wonderful days at work when you’ve not even put your bag down or taken off your coat and a colleague has pounced on you with a “total nightmare” or “complete disaster”.


And whilst you’d like to say something sassy like ‘lack of planning on your part doesn’t not constitute an urgency on mine’ or ‘disaster? Really? Since when were we in the business of saving lives?’ (this obviously doesn’t stand for those who are actually in the business of saving lives, and I’m speaking from a perspective where‘disaster’ usually means a spelling mistake), you know that a smart-mouth reply only makes the situation worse. So you what do you do? With a gritted jaw and the beginnings of a stress headache at 9:03am, you absorb the stress and Get On With it.


I could devote whole blog posts to thinking up sarcastic, smart-alec and wincingly hilarious replies to thoughtless comments from those around us, but I hope that in this post, I can be a bit more productive than that.


So let’s focus on absorbing someone else’s stress. Imagine this: It’s rush hour, and a pushy (literally and figuratively speaking) so-and-so asks you to move down a little. You don’t have any room, but nevertheless, because we’re British and this is the Tube, you do that little dance move thing that really only results in the little toe on your left foot moving about 3mm. But hey, you tried! They respond with a pass-agg smile/ grimace and whilst they don’t go so far as to “accidentally” elbow you in the ribs, you feel a rush of aggression that skewers your mood. You then walk into work or arrive home wired and basically spoiling for a fight.


Why couldn’t you just shake of Mr or Mrs Pushy? Why couldn’t you Just Let It Go? I mean, we’ve all been to enough yoga classes to understand the importance of Just Letting It Go .

We can’t Just Let It Go because we are biologically programmed absorb others’ stress. We have to. The careful balance of our society depends on our abilities to read others. You can be as chilled out, relaxed, zen and Teflon as you like, but as social animals, humans are hardwired to tap into the emotions of those around us. It’s what keeps us safe from harm (that gut feeling that something or someone just isn’t right) and allows us to conduct ever-evolving relationships; it’s how we learn to second guess those around us, sensing when things are slightly off.


We read body language, facial expressions and micro-changes in the behaviour of those we know, and even better (i.e., quite gross), we have the ability to smell stress through the secretions of cortisol and adrenaline in the sweat of others. I know, charming, right? Inhaling a nanoparticle of stress pheromones triggers a reaction in the amygdala, the area of our brain that regulates and processes emotions.


Of course, good ole’ physical activity and mindfulness to help self-awareness and mood control help. It’s not always easy to walk into the yoga studio calm and aware of how our stress may affect the next person in the changing room or even in the studio. It’s certainly not easy when you’ve dashed frantically to be on time, find a locker, get changed, find a spot on the floor… I can smell the cortisol and adrenaline just writing about it.


We will never be able to Just Let It Go all the time. So you can no longer worry about achieving that goal (you’re welcome). But yoga helps; it acts as a tool to help strengthen our filter. We need to be sensitive and in-touch with how those around us are feeling, but not all the time, ad not always ultra, hyper-sensitive. An increase in time spent in the hot room has a very strong correlation with a decrease in time spent feeling boggle-eyed with stress. And if we’re less stressed overall, we’re a) less likely to feel stressed about other things like finding a locker, but also b) able to strengthen and fine-tune our Other People’s Stress Filter, and also c) we’re less likely to stress out others around us. It’s win-win-win. Decompress, relinquish some of the rushing and the busyness, and you will improve yoga and life in general for you, and those around you.


stay happy and healthy!