Have you ever had a panicked colleague breathlessly share how hard they are working on grants, papers and mentoring only to find that you feel completely stressed out just having talked to them?

It turns out there’s a biological basis for it. A subset of your brains neurons are activated not only when you feel bad or are hurt, but also when you see someone who has these feelings or activities. According to neuroscientist Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, these ‘mirror neurons’ may only comprise ~ 10-20% of the neurons that control the movement and sensation, but they are thought to go a long way towards making you more empathic to the things that are happening around you.

Not only does your brain process the ‘second hand’ emotions of others much in the same way it processes your own emotional state, but the impact of secondary stress has also been linked to increased stress hormones, immune compromise and other deleterious signaling pathways associated with actually having experienced the stress yourself.

This week, the Harvard Business Review offered some pointers on how to avoid being overwhelmed by colleague’s occasional negativity, stress or sadness. The pointers range from simply being aware that this isn’t something ‘that is all in your head’ to using positive psychology to brace for a stressful day.

You can read the article here or try these awesome pointers including:

1) Being Thankful: Starting your day by writing a 2 minute note or email praising someone
2) Writing down three things for which you’re grateful;
3) Exercise: Doing cardio for 30 minutes helps you get in an early ‘win’ and sets you down a positive path for a successful day;
4) Meditating for two minutes. Breathing is your friend.

Finally, know that simply being mindful that circumstances and feelings of others are, more often than not, beyond your control will help you as you engage with life’s angst provoking situation and individuals more calmly.

For more great ideas on staying calm in the storm, check out APAs ‘Staying Calm at Work’ site and your University’s Employee Assistance Program 

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