While it may sound like a plot of the week for some sci-fi or supernatural tv show, the concept of the emotional contagion is a legitimate psychological finding. It affects you in almost every aspect of your life: work, home, family, fun times. And you infect others with your own emotional contagions without even realizing it. While the psychological explanation of an emotional contagion is highly detailed (this article on HuffPo from Dr. David R. Hamilton gives a good glimpse into the mind mechanics behind it), the dictionary.com definition will serve us fine for this primer on it:
emotional contagion (n): the tendency to feel and express emotions similar to and influenced by those of others; also, the phenomenon of one person’s negative thoughts or anxiety affecting another’s mood
The emotional contagion explains why we tend to be happy around happy, excited people, why we tend to be sad around Debbie Downers, and why your friend’s anxiety about a job interview can make you more anxious about nothing in particular. We don’t actively try to pass on our emotions to others for the most part…it’s just a subconscious reflex. Becoming more aware of when you’re catching an emotional contagion, however, can prevent you from being dragged down into negativity by those around you. And once you’ve mastered that, you can even start to positively contaminate those around you. It’s like having your own super power.
How do you spot the beginning of an emotional contagion invasion and stop it?
- Do you notice your mood shifting suddenly, with no real reason? Look around you. Are the people around you dipping into the negativity well? Complaining about little things, frowning, sighing heavily? These are all negative emotional contagions that can start to invade your mood.
- The simplest way to combat emotional contagions is with emotional detachment. Many times, we get dragged down into someone else’s negativity when we don’t even really need to be there. The drama with so-and-so’s in-laws really isn’t something that needs to get you in a bad mood, but somehow, we end up outraged along with the person telling the story. Distance yourself from it. Stop listening, leave the conversation, slap some headphones on, or just refuse to engage.
- If you want to be really ambitious, turn the tables on the Emotional Typhoid Mary trying to infect you and change the subject. Make it something lighter, happier. Be their emotional contagion and bring them to a more positive place along with you.
This Week’s Challenge
Block out those emotional contagions. Whether you have to just ignore a negative conversation or take the initiative to be a positive emotional contagion yourself, challenge yourself not to get bogged down with other people’s negativity this week.
This Week’s Mantra
A somewhat tongue-in-cheek mantra for you this week: from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale this mock-latin phrase means “Don’t let the bastards grind you down;” the epitome of combating emotional contagions: nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Enjoy the ironic frilly font and floral pattern.
If you want a reminder of your mantra for the next week, feel free to click the image above to download a wallpaper-sized version.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or mental health expert, and there are problems that positivity cannot overcome, so please do not take this advice in lieu of a doctor’s care.
Not all challenges will be relevant to everyone, so I welcome you to come and go as you please and take from each challenge what works for you! Please make sure to share your thoughts in the comments!