Stress Can Be Contagious
Heidi Zwart
stress can be contagious

Did you know that your personal emotions are “catchy?” Our friends, co-workers, and family can absorb your feelings and emotions as easily as they can catch your cold. People are synchronous beings and evidence suggests that joy, fear, and even stress can be contagious. 

Think about your last encounter with a stressed coworker, friend, or family member. How did you feel? Did you feel energized or drained? Did you feel calm or anxious? You are probably stressed just thinking about it!

Research has discovered that stress can be contagious between teachers and students, parents and children, and even pet-owners and their dogs!  

While this level of empathic response may surprise you, your body’s physiological response proves that stress can be contagious. Cortisol, your primary stress hormone, rises and falls with not only your own stress but with that of others as well. Simply watching someone else tense or cringe increases your cortisol level. Chronically high cortisol levels lead to many health challenges and chronic disease when it’s not addressed.

If you’re catching the stress of others, then they’re catching your stress, too. The awareness that stress can be contagious should cause you to combat the stressors in your life. Here are some ways to do that. 


One of the quickest ways to release tension is to focus on your breathing. When you feel your shoulders tense, your heart race, or your teeth clench, take 3 long, slow breaths. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat as many times as needed. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re holding our breath until you’re reminded to return to it. 

Be Grateful

When things go wrong, it’s easy to let the day spiral quickly. Start your day with a quick “I’m thankful for…” Write it on a post-it note where you can see it during your day or make it the screensaver on your phone. Add a quick gratitude moment to the end of your day as well as added reinforcement for reducing stress. Gratitude is the kryptonite of stress. 

Work it Out

When you exercise, your body releases “feel good” hormones like serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins. These natural chemicals help boost your mood and combat stress. Knowing that stress can be contagious, making time for exercise is a good way to prevent your stress from leaking to others.

Get Touchy

While social distancing requires wisdom and discretion, your need for physical connection with others hasn’t gone away. Physical touch is a necessary part of the human experience. Even a touch on the arm or holding hands can be enough to reduce stress. Be wise in who you connect with for now but seek it out with safe people in your life.

Because stress can be contagious, it’s important to be aware of your own stress levels. Try one of the stress reduction methods above to improve your personal well-being and the well-being of your community!

The BetterYou app uses behavior science to improve digital health and make it stick.

Want to learn how?