Reflections on How to Cope with Secondhand Stress
- 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.
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?