How to beat second-hand stress after celebrities including Jacqueline Jossa open up about toxic negativity

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Emotions are contagious. Just like the flu, we can “catch” and absorb what others are feeling.

There’s a term for it, too – second-hand stress. In other words, the tension and pressure we experience due to other people’s behaviour.

A host of celebrities have spoken out in recent days about toxic negativity and the impact it has had on their mental health.

Jacqueline Jossa this week revealed she was ‘at breaking point’ due to internet trolls, and Vicky Pattison opened up about about how other people's opinions can weigh heavily on your mood.

  • Jacqueline Jossa blocks troll website for her 'mental health' as she says reading horrific comments was 'self harm'

Even TOWIE's Chloe Sims has spoken about establishing boundaries. In a recent Instagram post, she wrote: "Stop telling people more than they need to know."

But toxic negativity can take its toll on all of us – whether we're in the spotlight and victims of trolling or not.

Connecting with those around us and caring for them is key to humans’ survival. So it makes sense we take on the positive and negative feelings of friends, family and colleagues.

Leading psychologist Dr Courtney Raspin explains, “Your body goes into a fight or flight response in an attempt to manage the stress cues from others, just as if you were experiencing your own anxiety. Second-hand stress can have the same effect on your body, too, causing your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure to rise. In the long run, it can negatively affect your physical and emotional health.”

These six steps will help you spot the signs and sort it…

1. IDENTIFY IT – WHOSE STRESS IS IT?

If you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed and tense, the best thing to do is try to locate the triggers,” says Dr Raspin. “Is it due to your personal pressures, or could you be absorbing other people’s distress? Identifying whether it’s ‘your stuff’ or ‘their stuff’ can help you feel more in control and ready to devise a plan to move forward.

2. DECIDE THE NEXT STEP

If you identify that the stress is due to other people’s behaviour, you have some choices. “Your immediate instinct may be to solve the problem, or avoid the source of stress,” explains Dr Raspin. “Both responses are normal, and it will depend largely on how you usually cope with stress. It’s important to try to make a conscious decision about how you deal with another’s behaviour.

"This will help you feel more in control and less affected by them. If someone close, who’s normally relaxed, is going through a tough time, it’s reasonable to try to help. However, if you constantly have a negative person near you, it’s in your best interest to step away – view it as self-protection from this negativity."

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3. KNOW HOW TO HELP OUT

“Sometimes, it takes very little to reduce another person’s stress levels,” says Dr Raspin. “By successfully helping them, you’ll boost your connection to them and you can eliminate the second-hand stress coming your way. Take some time out to be a sounding board for stressed family members, friends and colleagues. You may be able to help them identify the source of their tension and make useful suggestions as to how they might solve a particular problem.”

4. SET BOUNDARIES

Be careful not to continue taking on other people’s problems. “We all know that allowing someone to physically touch or hurt us in a way that makes us feel uncomfortable is bad,” says Dr Raspin. “And yet many of us struggle to keep similar emotional boundaries in place.”

Her advice?

“Pay attention to your body when it tells you that somebody’s invading your emotional space. This includes demands on your time and energy, lacking respect for your wishes and not taking no for an answer. If you constantly put your needs aside to deal with theirs, it’s a sign that your emotional boundaries might be being pushed.”

5. BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS

“It’s frustrating wanting to help but not being able to. We can end up getting angry with ourselves for not being good enough and angry with others for draining us,” explains Dr Raspin.

“Neither of these responses are good for our own stress levels. Remember that your instinct to help makes you a kind and good person. It takes time to learn healthy boundaries. It’s essential you forgive yourself if you allow those boundaries to be violated. Also, when you feel angry with the stressed person, remember they’re suffering, too.

"They can’t see a way out and they’re responding by sucking the life out of everyone around them. They’re struggling and in pain. Keep this in mind and it can help reduce your own feelings of anger and, in turn, reduce your stress levels."

6. TAKE SOME TIME OUT

“If you feel bombarded by toxic negativity, it may be time to create space away from the source,” says Dr Raspin. “Turn off your phone and perhaps make a separate folder where messages from the stressed person automatically go. This puts you in charge of when you decide to look at those messages rather than feeling compelled to open them as soon as they ping into your inbox."

“You might also need to let the other person know that you’re unable to help them any more and advise them to seek help elsewhere,” adds Dr Raspin. “This can feel mean, but it’s essential in order to maintain your own good mental health.”

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