Stress contagion: Does observing others’ anxiety affect you?

When you observe a person who is stressed, sometimes you begin to feel stressed yourself, even if you are not doing anything stressful. Consider a scenario in which you’re watching someone give a presentation and they are noticeably anxious. You may start to feel the same increase in heart rate or sweaty palms that they are feeling. How does this stress contagion work? A recent study conducted by the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz in Germany explores this question and finds that observing stress in others leads to higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol. The findings of this study can be particularly helpful in managing stress in the workplace.

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