When we think of someone being contagious, it’s most often in the context of having the cold or the flu. We know that germs are easy to spread, and we might be susceptible to catching an illness. But did you know that our emotions are contagious, too? Not literally, of course, but emerging research is showing that the people around us can really influence our feelings – for example, if your boss is acting grumpy and rude, you’re likely to feel that same way! We often subconsciously mimic others’ facial expressions and hand gestures and then begin to take on or “catch” their emotions and begin to feel similar feelings.
Contagious emotions aren’t always a bad thing. Choosing to be around positive and optimistic individuals can really brighten our spirits. However, we’ve all unfortunately experienced being affected by someone else’s bad mood. If you find yourself being weighed down by another person’s negative feelings, here are three ways to protect yourself emotionally:
Trace the Emotion to its Original Source
A big part of this is being mindful of your own feelings and who your company is. In order to find out where these feelings are coming from, ask yourself the following questions:
Who do I spend a lot of time with?
What interactions or relationships may be draining my energy or peace?
Did something happen to me that actually made me feel this way, or is it just that you’ve been spending time with someone who is feeling this emotion?
Change Your Body Language
If you’re in a situation where someone is acting unkind, angry, confrontational, or otherwise negative, you can use your body language to help diffuse intense emotions. Limit your eye contact, keep your voice calm, and maintain neutral body language. This is key to remaining in control, where you can help put a stop to the mood contagion.
Recognize Your Limits
If you are constantly around someone who is bringing you down and find yourself “catching” his/her bad emotions, it’s okay to put limits on that relationship. Boundaries are crucial in all of our relationships, whether they are business, family, love, etc. Perhaps meet in a more neutral place where others can balance out the negativity. If the relationship becomes toxic or continues to be unhealthy and you find yourself “catching” the negativity too often, it’s okay to end the relationship, or limit your time spent with this individual.
Our feelings are powerful, for good and for bad, and while difficult emotions (sadness, loneliness, frustration, etc.) have their place and are not to be avoided completely, don’t be afraid to make some changes if someone else is unnecessarily dragging you down. Be careful of what kind of emotional influences you let in, and to also be mindful of what emotions you are “spreading” as well. Remember, you’re contagious!