Last week I wrote about the difference between fear and anxiety and how they can influence your immune system in different ways. If you have not read it yet and you are curious, go to this blogpost.
This week I will discuss how fear and anxiety can be contagious and what we do against it. Experiencing anxiety can be contagious. As when we see someone being anxious, we might start to sense the sensation of feeling anxious ourselves. But how does this work? And can we do something to protect ourselves against this contagious anxiety?
Uncertainty plays a role in this. The amount of uncertainty a threat has can influence a person to experience either fear or anxiety. To experience fear we must encounter a real threat. It is something that can be dangerous and we can identify it immediately. In this situation the amount of uncertainty is low, because we are certain of what the threat is. If we continue to think about the possible consequences of this threat, adding uncertainty to the situation, we tend to experience anxiety.
‘Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight’
– Benjamin Franklin
People respond differently to uncertainty. Some can handle it well, and others do not like it at all. Research shows that people who are intolerant of uncertainty have the tendency to think of the possibility of a negative event happening, as unacceptable and threatening. Ambiguous information leaves room for interpretation. Hence, people who are intolerant of uncertainty interpret ambiguous information as threatening, which then contributes to their anxiety.
If we look at the situation the entire world is in now, we can agree that it involves a lot of uncertainty. People are working hard to gain information about the COVID-19 virus, and countries are taking measures to protect its citizens. However, it is still uncertain what will happen. The mass media plays can enhance the speed and range of the distribution of a message. They can also give the opportunity for information and clarity, or for fear and anxiety.
It is good to be aware of the concept of emotional contagion. An emotional state can be transferred from one person to the other via emotional contagion. This means that if you currently feel happy or sad, you might transmit your emotions to someone making him/her feel happy or sad. It is something that can happen to all of us, and most of the time it occurs without us being aware of it. This might already be well known to most, and I believe it to be very relevant for the time we are living in right now.
‘Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event
to control your emotions’
– Pema Chodron
Emotional contagion takes place when people are physically close, but it also works through video, images, and even texts. A study found that when people read a Facebook message, they can feel the emotion without being aware of it. If I would write a post on Facebook, wherein I am clearly sad, a person that reads it can feel fine. However, he/she might get sad as well later. Hence, they might not even know why they are sad.
This is important, because a Facebook message is not ‘directed’ at anyone in particular and there is no nonverbal communication to be observed. Meaning that we are capable of creating an interpretation of an emotion that a text is written with, and unconsciously adapt that emotion as our own. This stresses the point that we need to be mindful when we watch the news or media in search of certainty. We might be absorbing unwanted emotions. Emotions that do not bring us the calm state we actually desire.
‘The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another’
– William James
I believe it to be very helpful when we become conscious of the way we think and feel. An useful tool in doing so is to keep track of your emotions and thoughts. Whenever we are sad, anxious, angry, or fearful, we should write it down. Take notes of your surroundings, what you are doing, who you are with, who you were talking to just a few seconds ago, what you were reading or watching, etc.
By writing it down and becoming aware of the emotional state you are in, you create the opportunity to distance yourself from your emotions and observe them objectively. Did something happen for you to feel this way? Or is it something you saw or read? Did you witness an emotion from someone else?
There are other things we can do to face uncertainty and anxiety:
- Avoid ruminating: Whenever you start to feel bad, try to distance yourself from your emotions. You can try writing your thoughts down, just as I explained above. Figure out ways to notice when you start to get into a negative thinking spiral and what you can do to get out of it. Take action!
- Be kind to yourself: By taking care of yourself you can reduce your stress levels and improve the effectiveness of your immune system. Things like eating healthy, having enough sleep, exercise, reading, and learning something new. Even thinking of past successes and giving yourself the credit you deserve can help you reduce stress. All these things, and more, can benefit your health and state of wellbeing.
- Limit exposure to news: It is good to stay informed, however, if you notice that you are getting anxious or start to feel angry, try limiting your news intake. Try to avoid the subject on TV, social media, and even in conversations with your friends.
- Control what you can: When you focus on things that are within your control you can create an uplifting and calming routine. This can be things such as waking up at a certain time and read a book, or cook a nice healthy meal. It takes your mind of things.
- Seek social support: Social support increases your state of wellbeing. It is also good for your self-esteem, lightening the effects of emotional distress and improves your ability to cope with stressful situations.
If you have experienced this text to be helpful and insightful, please share it with others. Let us spread love and awareness together. Let me know what you think of this post in the comments below or send me an e-mail. I encourage you to share your experience or thoughts!