What is secondhand stress and how do I get rid of it?

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Studies have shown that stress can be contagious. So, how do we get rid of – or avoid altogether – secondhand stress, before we start to feel overwhelmed?

What is secondhand stress and how do I get rid of it?

Stress. It can be overwhelming, can’t it? As a nation, as many as one in four (74%) of us have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope in the past year, according to figures from the Mental Health Foundation. With feelings of stress often surrounding financial worries, relationship difficulties, and feelings of being overworked and underappreciated, unfortunately, it’s not just our own stress that’s keeping us up at night.

Research has shown that thanks to emotional contagion, it’s possible for us to ‘catch’ stress, anxiety, and other emotions from others. Just watching someone else showing classic signs of stress can be enough to trigger a stress response in us, which can lead to further feelings of exhaustion, worry, and even starting to avoid certain colleagues, friends, family, and loved ones.

So, what can we do to spot the signs of secondhand stress before it starts to take hold of us? And how can we get rid of secondhand stress for good?

What is secondhand stress and anxiety?

The terms secondhand stress and secondhand anxiety refer to when you feel stressed or anxious because someone else is showing signs of stress or anxiety. Essentially, our minds and bodies are wired to keep an eye out for potential danger or threats. When we see someone else having a stress or anxiety reaction, we unconsciously can end up mimicking this, as a natural form of self-defence.

We’re able to pick up secondhand stress by seeing others’ facial expressions, hearing their voice frequency, and even picking up on specific scents or touches. What’s more, we’re more likely to experience secondhand stress from someone we know, rather than a stranger – meaning our colleague’s stress levels, and how they react to and express those feelings of stress, can have a serious impact on us.

How do you know if someone is stressing you out?

There are a number of different signs and symptoms of stress that we can keep an eye out for. These can include emotional symptoms (feeling frustrated, quick to anger, anxious, overwhelmed, teary, or avoiding others or social situations) or physical symptoms (trouble sleeping, feeling dizzy, excessive sweating, chest pains or palpitations, digestive problems, or seeking comfort from food, drugs or alcohol). But there are also signs you can keep an eye out for, that can indicate that being around someone else may be causing you secondhand stress.

These can include:

  • Stress eating or drinking when they are around (e.g. eating more when you’re around someone, as a way to self-soothe or cope with how you are feeling).
  • Checking your phone or avoiding eye contact while talking to others. This can be a sign that you are feeling uncomfortable with what is being shared, or are experiencing feelings of stress and overwhelm (though it’s worth noting that not everyone is

50 calming affirmations for Christmas chaos

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Take a moment for yourself this festive season, with these 50 affirmations designed to help you find calm in the chaos

50 calming affirmations for Christmas chaos

Christmas is a time for giving, gratitude, reflection, and togetherness. It’s also a time for over-flowing to-do lists, kitchen nightmares, noise, lights, and family fall-outs. So, this year, doesn’t it just make sense to make a commitment to creating pockets of calm, where you can?

Affirmations are short phrases or mantras that we can repeat to ourselves, either aloud or in our heads, that help us to focus our minds, soothe stress, and build resilience. Here, we’ve collected together a list of 50 affirmations, designed to help you find calm in the chaos.

Which ones resonate with you? Pick out a selection, note them down on your phone, or write them out on a piece of paper to keep in your bag or pocket – and, when you feel your stress levels rising, breathe deeply, and repeat your affirmations. Let the calm in, and the chaos go…

  1. I let go of the pursuit of perfection.
  2. I am committed to peace and calm.
  3. I am capable of tackling obstacles.
  4. My thoughts do not control me, I control my thoughts.
  5. My wellbeing is worth protecting.
  6. I am doing the best I can.
  7. I take things one step at a time.
  8. My feelings deserve to be recognised.
  9. I invite joy into my life.
  10. I am the architect of my own life.
  11. I give myself permission to rest.
  12. I let go of stress.
  13. I am safe.
  14. I can ask for help when I need it.
  15. I deserve to be treated with respect.
  16. I recognise my skills.
  17. My feelings are valid and I will Iisten to them.
  18. I do not need to please everyone.
  19. I treat myself with kindness.
  20. I live in line with my values.
  21. I have the tools I need to face challenges that come my way.
  22. I will take time to find joy in my day.
  23. I am allowed to say ‘no’.
  24. I am grateful for what I have.
  25. I treasure happy moments.
  26. I relieve myself of the pressure to perform.
  27. I can feel a sense of calm moving through my body.
  28. My mind is still and quiet.
  29. My anxious thoughts don’t rule me.
  30. It is healthy to set boundaries with others.
  31. I deserve to rest.
  32. If I reach my capacity, I can stop.
  33. I am not responsible for everyone’s happiness.
  34. I breathe out stress and breathe in peace.
  35. Asking for help is a sign of strength.
  36. It’s OK to need quiet.
  37. I deserve to feel appreciated.
  38. I am not responsible for the things I can’t control.
  39. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone.
  40. It’s OK to take a step back.
  41. I will have a peaceful day.
  42. I let go of the tension.
  43. I have faith in myself.
  44. I return to the present moment.
  45. I am capable of being calm.
  46. I do not ponder on intrusive thoughts.
  47. I am loved.
  48. External stress doesn't need to affect me.
  49. I deserve compassion.
  50. I am calm.

Looking for support? Connect with a counsellor using the Counselling Directory

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What are the 'five fs' of stress and how can we tackle them?

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Stress presents itself in many forms. Learn how to spot and address it from every angle

What are the 'five fs' of stress and how can we tackle them?

If someone is drowning, it’s well understood that people don’t necessarily thrash – survival instinct kicks in, and they can look calm to an untrained eye. Yet, when we’re metaphorically drowning in life, we forget to apply that principle.

If we could learn to spot subtle signs of drowning in stress, we could really change our relationship with it, and how we can be there to help each other.

I actually have a story which really epitomises this secret stress bubbling away. I was halfway through a six-week hike, when a friendly man approached me with some almonds. Despite his kind intent, I shut down. I was weary, my body was tired, and I was on the verge of quitting. Feeling out of sorts, in unfamiliar surroundings, I became hyper-vigilant.

I remember watching him take my hand and turn it around. I froze as he put nuts into it. My heart pounded. I threw the almonds to the ground and cried. Feeling incapacitated, already stressed, in open land with little way to get help if I needed to, my body only registered a threat.

While we’re familiar with the terms fight and flight – the response when faced with danger, preparing you for action – there are actually five ‘fs’: fight, flight, freeze, flop, and fawn. What happened to me, in this instance, was a mix of freeze and flop.

So, how can you identify and address each ‘F’?

Fight

In fight mode, you’re tackling things head-on. Full of adrenaline, your thoughts take a back seat as your heart rate increases, pumping blood throughout your body. You might take more risks, like running into a road to save a child. This can feel primal. Be aware of what’s happening in your body, and remember to take a breath. It will be important for you to take time out after a period of stress to let your body settle and recover.

Flight

Problems don’t feel like challenges to be tackled, but obstacles to be avoided. You feel vulnerable, tight in your chest and gut, and instinctively want to avoid, run away, or retreat. You might be very aware of the exit signs in an enclosed space, and may even figure out your escape routes in advance. If your pattern is to flee, place your feet on the ground and breathe deeply and slowly. Stick with your discomfort, and allow it to pass. This will give you time to explore your options. What do you need to make this situation less stressful?

Freeze

You’re like a rabbit in headlights, and your feet feel stuck to the ground. This can happen when escape isn’t possible, because running may lead to a chase, or fighting back invites more attacks. In this state, it is difficult to make any decisions, and sometimes you can’t ask for help because you don’t know what to ask for. It can also feel like all your senses are blocked, and all your energy is locked inside your body with no way out. If this happens to you, let the blankness in for a while; let it be and don’t try to change it. Paradoxically, this will make it pass. This can be helpful if you’re performing on stage, and your mind goes blank.

Flop

You might faint, feel dizzy, or dissociate – disconnecting from your thoughts, feelings, or sense of self to cope with the stress. This can be short-lived or last a long time.

“Christmas creep” - what is it (and how can we navigate it)?

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Feeling the pressure to pull off a great Christmas this year? You could be falling victim to the “Christmas creep”

“Christmas creep” - what is it (and how can we navigate it)?

“Christmas creep”. It’s a phrase we’ve seen floating around recently, but what exactly is it and why might the phenomenon be putting a strain on our mental health?

In a nutshell, the phrase has been attributed to merchandisers and retailers introducing and advertising their Christmas-themed goods before the start of the typical holiday season, and it seems to be happening earlier each year.

For many of us, the passing of Halloween marks the beginning of the festive season but how soon is too soon when it comes to retailers introducing their Christmas goodies? Well, some argue that the Christmas creep is, in fact, putting people off their holiday shopping as it has been found to trigger early stress (and that’s why we’ve left it until now to discuss).

With still over a month to go until the ‘big day’ and in the current economic climate, it’s no wonder people are feeling the pressure to ‘nail’ another Christmas this year. In an attempt to motivate us to get spending sooner, the phenomenon is actually forcing us to consider that Christmas is “just around the corner” (when it really isn’t). This can be contradictory as many of us start to feel the pressure to spend and, instead, retreat in an attempt to delay our festive shopping.

The Christmas season is meant to be a time of joy - getting together with our loved ones and sharing fond, happy memories. But the desire for quality time with our nearest and dearest can become overshadowed by the thoughts, “what will I get X for Christmas?”, “Is so and so doing gifts this year?”, “If they’re getting me something, I ought to get something for them”, “How much do I spend?”.

Sound familiar? When we get held up by these consuming thoughts, it’s easy for us to be put off by the festivities and the Christmas creep certainly doesn’t help. Unlike the Grinch, retailers really can steal the Christmas spirit.

What effect does the Christmas creep have on our mental health?

Whilst there is little research on the subject, the Christmas period is generally a stressor for many people. It can cause feelings of anxiety, low mood or depression, and loneliness and may trigger past trauma, particularly for those estranged from their families.

There are a number of reasons why the season can contribute to poor mental health, and the Christmas creep exacerbates this.

Workload and stress


Typically, the ‘head’ of the family has to put in the legwork during the festive period, buying gifts, and doing the dreaded food shop, all whilst managing their own workload - in their job and around the home. Early school and work closures for the Christmas break mean less time to cram all this in, so the demands increase. Whilst some people might be grateful for the early start, for many, the Christmas creep only prolongs feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Managing expectations

When we traditionally think of Christmas, we think of a flamboya

Acing exam season with social media

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It's that time of year again and in the lead-up to the final weeks of exam season, students have been tackling their revision in a rather unconventional way

Acing exam season with social media

Thousands of students will sit their A-Level and GCSE exams in the next few weeks before school’s out for summer, but with so much information to take in, this can be a particularly stressful time. MyTutor, a leading online tutoring platform, is determined to make it a little easier for students by creating a free resource designed to make revision more memorable and engaging, using TikTok.

Their study reveals that 59% of students in the UK use social media to aid their studies, with 27% using it as a “go-to” learning source. 30% of pupils use online platforms like YouTube to consolidate their learning, suggesting that traditional study techniques may no longer be the best way to retain information.

The pandemic has brought about this shift in learning behaviour as classroom-based studies have moved online. As such, social media has now become an invaluable tool for students across the country, with a focus on more self-directed learning. Platforms such as TikTok give communities of pupils access to channel their learning and process information in an easily digestible way using hashtags like #StudyTok.

This prompted MyTutor to create the “TikTok Textbook”, aimed at bringing learning materials online. It includes bite-sized videos that break down some of the hardest GCSE and A-Level questions from exam boards OCR and AQA. Since its launch, it has already generated 1.8 million views on its expert revision tips and emotional well-being advice.

"As university students, our tutors have recent experience of sitting their exams and through the TikTok Textbook they will also be offering expert revision tips, as well as advice for students to prioritise their emotional well-being during these high-pressure times." Bertie Hubbard, CEO of MyTutor.

So, if your children are struggling to understand radioactive half-lives or they want to perfect their French grammar, taking to social media could be the way forward.

Stress is a natural emotion, but if you are concerned about a child or teen’s stress levels or mental health, there are techniques you can implement to help children deal with exam nerves.


How can I help my child during exam season?

Keep things in perspective

It’s important that children have a parent or guardian they can speak to openly and honestly. Let them know that you are there to help and talk if they need anything.

Maintain good habits

Encourage your children to eat a balanced diet, exercise, get a good sleep and have downtime to keep their bodies and minds healthy while studying.

Try to avoid additional pressure

Checking in on your children may seem like a good idea, but it can make children feel more pressured or less confident. Instead, try to take a step back and offer support whilst avoiding criticism.

For more tips on how to support your children during exams, read our article 5 ways to help kids with stress.

Sometimes, it may be beneficial to try alternative methods to control exam stress. Hypnotherapy is a method commonly used to control exam

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