Work Stress As Contagious As A Cold, Says Study

Work Stress Contagious

The Huffington Post UK   First Posted: 10/11/11 13:55 Updated: 10/11/11 13:55

Beware, it's not just colds and flu that could be doing the rounds in your office. It's possible to catch other people's stress, too, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii discovered that second-hand stress and anxiety levels can be passed onto each other in the office - and it spreads just as quickly as cold and flu bugs.

The study suggests that our brain's act like sponges and subconsciously soak up emotions, behavioural traits and facial expressions emitted from our co-workers.

"People seem to be capable of mimicking others facial, vocal and postural expressions with stunning rapidity," says professor Elaine Hatfield who led the study.

So if you sit next to an office stress-head, chances are their troubles will start to affect you too. The research found that a colleague's stress levels act like a depressant in the brain, prompting us think about our own worries and concerns.

"As a consequence, they are able to feel themselves into those other emotional lives to a surprising extent," adds Professor Hatfield.

The study also found that we not only mentally mimic our stressed-out co-workers, but we physically copy them too. As Professor Hatfield explains, people unwittingly take on their work colleague's stress-related body language, such as hunched shoulders and constant frowning.

"Women are more at risk because they tend to be more in tune with other people's feelings," concludes Professor Hatfield.

The average Brit spends 48 hours or more at work, so if you're feeling the brunt of your co-workers stress levels, find out how you can channel your anxiety into something positive - and make stress work for you.

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  • Stress Is Part Of Success

    "We all need something to spur us along, so recognise stress as a part of the process.  Only when you cannot escape it at the end of the day is it time to really worry.  So make sure you plan treats and fun or relaxing activities for your leisure time."

  • Give Yourself Some Contingency 

    "Allow extra time to get there early or finish before it's needed to reduce stress levels from the start."

  • Walk Around

    "Doing nothing more than getting up from your desk, having a stretch and walking about a little will reduce your stress levels.  If you can take fifteen minutes to take a walk outside, the effect will be even greater."

  • Focus On Your Achievements

    "Often when we are stressed we focus on failures and things we have yet to do.  Focus on success and what you have done, to give you a sense of control.  Celebrate your successes to replace feelings of stress with a sense of pride."

  • Have A Rant... But Choose Your Timing Carefully

    "If you need to let off steam, do it with the right person at the right time: a trusted friend, outside of work hours.  Remember, if you spend too much of your home life moaning or being angry, you will damage one of your most powerful stress-busting assets: your family relationships.  So invest time in strengthening them."

  • A Problem Shared

    "If you do feel the first signs of stress, talk to others around you.  If they are stressed too, then you will know you aren't alone. If they are not, then perhaps they can help calm you."

  • Tidy Up

    "For many people, an untidy work space increases feelings of stress.  Deal with it.  The delay will more than be compensated by subsequent increases in your efficiency, and getting your area tidy will give you an immediate sense of control."

  • One Thing At A Time

    "Not only is multi-tasking inefficient, but it adds to your stress levels.  Do one thing at a time and you will be calmer and do better quality work."

  • Start Snacking

    "If you cannot take the time for a nutritious and relaxing lunch break, at least choose healthy snacks, so you can feel virtuous.  Plenty of fresh water, nuts, fruit, dried fruit and raw vegetables all help you to keep your body well, and enhance your resilience."

  • Build In Planning Time

    "Time to plan and prepare will leave you feeling calm from the start."