Stress Can Be Contagious

People who live in a state of chronic stress notice that they begin to suffer from memory loss and lack of attention; they become irritable and anxious. This is not surprising because stress can affect the brain both on the chemical and physical levels. Under stress, cortisol, a stress hormone, is continuously released in large quantities, gradually damaging and even destroying brain neurons.

Research from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Germany) study this condition. They have discovered that stress can be transmitted from one person to another. Veronika Engert and her colleagues conducted the following experience. The first group of participants had to take math tests and interviews so much that they fell into a state of stress and their level of cortisol increased significantly. At the same time, participants from the second group only observed participants of the first group who were experiencing stress. The researchers identified that on average 26% of observers had also had an increased level of cortisol. The likelihood of stress buildup was higher if the person subjected to stress and his observer were in a personal relationship. In such conditions, stress passed on to the observers in 40% of the cases. The incidences of stress transference depended on the method of observation, although the difference in this case was not too large. When the researchers showed videos of stressed people to people who were not subjected to stress, the scientists detected stress transference in 24 % of all cases.

This study suggests that environmental factors, such as aggressive TV programs, music and internet content, have the ability to influence our psychological state. Hence, we should be cautious about what we watch, listen to and read. Also, we should create a positive environment that encourages positive thinking around ourselves, otherwise, we may develop unwanted hormonal changes resulting in the destruction of brain cells further down the line.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have discovered that chronic stress has a detrimental effect on neuron cells and their connections. This destructive results from uncontrolled excessive activation of neuron patterns are provoked by the release of large amount of cortisol over time. This reinforces the fact that a healthy life is one that limits stress, and way of doing this is to reduce our exposure to other stressful people who are likely to have an impact on our own stress levels.


Svetlana Stroganova, Nikolai Shmelev

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