Emotions are Contagious Too!
Many of us have seen the graphic photos of someone sneezing with thousands of droplets projecting into the air. The contagious nature of this virus is certainly a huge part of the pandemic, and the flu and cold season.
And here’s the thing—emotions are highly contagious too!
At a time when most people are hunkered down and spending more time alone or together with immediate family, it is important to understand how your emotions affect others, as well as how you can “catch” emotions.
The fancy term for it is called “emotional contagion,” which means that humans synchronize their emotions with the emotions conveyed by other people. One person’s emotions become contagious to others.
A Harvard researcher named Shawn Anchor studies emotions. He supports the idea that emotions are contagious with this statement: “Our brains are wirelessly connected, which means we co-process the world. We do not individually process the world.”
We co-process and we co-create. That is a big deal. It is therefore essential to understand the idea that emotions are contagious—both the emotions you receive from others as well as the emotions you spread.
The phenomena of contagious emotions involve all types of emotions, from happy to angry, although negative emotions are more readily spread than positive ones. Negative emotions are stronger because your brain is wired to keep you safe, so it is hyper-sensitive to negative emotions. It’s no wonder that so many are feeling anxious and unsafe right now.
When people know one another well, the emotional rippling effect can happen in a nanosecond. It starts with a facial expression or tone of voice, posture, or gesture. Very likely, as you catch the emotion emanating from the other, you will adjust your emotions accordingly.
Whether you work closely with a teammate or are spending 24/7 with a family member, your emotional state frequently affects the emotions of the other. Sometimes you are conscious of this and other times you are unconscious to the impact you have on another (or they have on you). Here’s a simple example of how it works:
You look sad after a phone call. If your co-worker or family member is hyper-sensitive that something is wrong, they may ask: “What’s wrong? Is there something I can do to help you?”
If you default to the Rescuer role in the Dreaded Drama Triangle, you may want to “save” the other person from feeling negative emotions. If you “catch” and interpret the other’s emotion, it is likely they will then “catch” your concern and the situation is magnified. It can become a vicious cycle.
Scientists are finding that this co-processing is neurologically complex. As a result, one person may feel they are living the emotional lives of other people.
The idea of contagious emotions requires that you become highly conscious of your own moment-to-moment emotions. Are you sending out positive emotions as you learn to be with and care for others? Or are you contributing to the drama by seeding the environment with fear-based emotions?
The contagious nature of the COVID-19 virus is accelerating our understanding of how deeply interconnected we are physically, as well as emotionally. As we collectively navigate this tectonic shift in how we live and work, we encourage you to be more aware of your own emotional state and ask for help and support when you need it.
Taking good care of yourself now, more than ever, will help you maintain a healthy balance so you can contribute to a world that works for all.
Take good care everyone!