Keeping your chin up in a chin-down world

Reflections on How to Cope with Secondhand Stress

Key Ideas

  • Secondhand stress refers to stress that spills over from those around us, e.g. colleagues, friends, family.
  • The main premise is that we will likely be negatively affected by the negative emotions of those around us.
  • Unfortunately, secondhand stress is inescapable. We could even catch it from negativity on social media.
  • The article provides some strategies on dealing with secondhand stress:
    • If possible, try to understand the source of stress. When people accurately label their emotions, they are more likely to do something about it.
    • Show empathy, try to offer help or give perspectives that are constructive.
    • If it’s taking a toll on you, try to distance yourself from them till you can strengthen yourself.
    • Cultivate optimism. Don’t let a person’s stress “be the only voice”.
    • Don’t harp on “have-to”s, such as “I have to take this call”, or “I have to go to this meeting”, but the big picture in mind. Categorising your work this way “creates a prison around yourself”. Instead, generate “I want to” goals based on higher level principles: “I value collaboration, and I want to attend this meeting as it will facilitate that.”
    • And of course, take good care of yourself. Exercise, eat well, sleep well, wind down.

Personal reflection

I decided to hold off on more “constructive” topics like data visualisation, analysis and the like to focus on this as it was a key discussion in my previous appraisal session. I realised that I could be the source of secondhand stress for others, and I need to develop new habits to address this.

One takeaway for me from this article is to consciously take a step back when I’m overwhelmed, and look for the bigger picture. For instance, when I’m overwhelmed by the number of things to juggle (especially during this COVID-19 season), I should focus on the higher level outcomes of my immediate task. Is there really a need to do things this way? What was the big objective when I set out on my current task? Can I still meet that objective if I step it down a notch?

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