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Immunize yourself from secondhand stress

Man trapped in office

“Stress can be as contagious as germs.”

That headline grabbed my attention. While we can get our flu shots, wash our hands and eat a diet that bolsters our immune system, secondhand stress can wreak havoc on our health and well-being.

In the Star-Tribune article, Debra Safyre, a former nurse and energy management consultant, related the effect of stress to a tuning fork. “When you hit a tuning fork, everything around it starts vibrating with it,” she said. “It’s the same thing with stress. If stress is a very strong vibration around you, you’re going to start reacting to it.”

The impact of secondhand stress has only recently been recognized. While stress in small doses is good to propel you into action, excessive prolonged stress leads to a variety of health issues, from headaches to heart problems, according to Dr. Berendina Numan, co-founder of the Center for Counseling and Stress Management.

There are three ways to deal with secondhand stress.

First, you can change the people who emit this vibration. Good luck with that one!

Second, you can get away from them. This is not always an option, especially if they are family members or your boss or coworkers.

Finally, you can protect yourself from them. In The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, Dr. Amit Sood recommends imagining yourself wearing a Teflon vest so that stress doesn’t “stick” to you.

To reduce our anxiety and build up our immunity to stressful people around us, Dr. Sood suggests these wise daily practices:

On Monday, be grateful. When things go wrong, focus on what went right.

On Tuesday, express compassion. Remember that an expression other than love is a call for help. I recommend reading this Harvard Business Review article, “Prevent Burnout by Making Compassion a Habit.”

On Wednesday, accept. When you recognize that all humans have flaws and are fallible, you can accept them without embracing their imperfections.

On Thursday, recognize the higher meaning in life. By clarifying who you are and why you exist, you are more likely to do things that are meaningful to you at that time

On Friday, forgive. Forgiveness is for you, not for the forgiven.

On Saturday, celebrate. On Sunday, reflect.

We can’t control how people around us act, but we can control how we react to — and interact with — them.

Tricia Molloy is a leadership expert, former NEW Summit speaker and author of Working with Wisdom.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.