Article Highlights

  1. Limit intake of negative news and events. 
  2. Limit contact with negative or stressful people.
  3. Use healthy tools and resources to feel better.

Note: This article was transcribed directly from the video.

Hello, I’m Dr. Stacie Otey-Scott here with another episode of Stress Less with Dr. SOS.

Germs and viruses aren’t the only things that are contagious…so are behaviors. 

Today I want to talk about anxiety and a concept called “behavioral contagion”. While mental health disorders are NOT contagious, emotions and attitudes certainly can be.

And while we all consider what we can do to stay physically healthy and safe, we also need to consider how to stay well mentally and emotionally. 

Behavioral contagion or social contagion is a type of social influence.  It’s a psychological concept based on the Contagion Theory, which suggests that behavior patterns, attitudes, and emotions can be spread from person to person or group to group through suggestion or imitation and these behaviors and attitudes can be positive or negative.

The truth is we are all familiar with Behavioral contagion. How? Check out this image. Did you catch it? Ok let’s try again. Did you catch it that time? 

When you saw the the baby smiling and cooing what did you do? Smiled back, right? It was almost an automatic response that occurred without you even putting too much thought into it.

What about this?  Yep, when someone yawns, it can trigger a desire in those around them to yawn.

So, why is this theory so important right now? Primarily because we are all likely experiencing some form of anxiety related to the uncertainty of what’s going on in the world. 

Some of us are stressed because of health concerns, while others are anxious about our jobs. Some of us are feeling the 

impact of isolation  and loneliness, while others are worried about our finances.

Regardless of your source of stress, it’s pretty normal that our anxiety levels are a bit high and our distress tolerance might be a little low given all that we are experiencing.

So what can we do to manage some of our anxiety in light of our new found understanding of behavioral contagion? I’m glad you asked! 

While we are being encouraged to engage in social distancing in a very physical sense – we need to recognize when it might be time to engage in emotional distancing to protect and preserve our mental wellness.

Let’s take a common sense approach as we consider practical application, for example: 

Limit intake of negative news and events

If you recognize that every time you watch the news or hear your phone ping with a news update about world events, you find your chest tight and head hurting afterward. try limiting how often you look at the news and silence those alerts. 

Do what works best for you by listening to your body. For some folks catching the news every other day works well, while there are others of us who probably shouldn’t check it out more than once or twice a week.

And to flip the switch on this negative experience of behavioral contagion, let’s take it one step further and actually look for positive news. Believe it or not, there is some out there! Just check out Positive.News to get a good dose of what’s going right in the world.

Limit contact with negative or stressful people

Pay attention to how you feel and what you think when interacting with friends, colleagues and loved ones to determine who is good for your health vs who is a hazard to your health. 

There is a sign in my office that says “Be a fountain, not a drain” and I think it’s safe to say that all of us have experienced being around someone who can be a drain mentally, emotionally and sometimes even spiritually.

While being around these kinds of people can be challenging under normal circumstances, in stressful times these people can be even more toxic.

If you find yourself regularly walking away from a conversation with a particular person feeling worse than when you started, that person might be a drain and you need to be mindful of limiting your contact with him or her. 

Give yourself permission to limit the frequency and duration of your interactions with them. 

In other words, it’s ok to let their call go to voicemail so you can pick and choose when it is best for you to respond.

Wanna flip the switch again? Make yourself a quick list of who you can reach out to that might bring a smile to your face or maybe even get you laughing! Then give them a call or shoot them a text and watch how quickly you ”catch” a different attitude.

Use healthy tools and resources to feel better

Here lately I’ve recognized that it can be a little difficult for me to watch some of the programs I used to enjoy. I was big on crime and medical dramas, but over the last few weeks, I started finding myself more anxious than usual after watching them and sometimes not even being able to rest well.

Before this newfound anxiety set in, I would regularly walk pass my husband on the couch watching old re-runs of The Rifle Man and Gun Smoke and think, “boring.” Who is this old man I’m married to? 

Now guess who’s bringing the popcorn and grabbing a blanket to find out what happened to Lucas McCain in the last episode of The Rifle Man. Me!! That’s right, so if my husband is an old man, I must be his old lady. 

The bottom line is I recognized in this season of stress, duress, confusion and uncertainty, I don’t need to invite anything remotely resembling chaos into my life especially not as a form of ”entertainment” while I try to “relax”. 

So my “flip the switch” has been to find forms of entertainment that are truly relaxing reflecting on the good old days where the storyline surrounded a man and his horse or maybe even a comedy that will really allow me get in a good laugh and release some much needed mood elevating endorphins.

So let’s make mindful and intentional choices about who and what we surround ourselves with as we consider ”behavioral contagion” so we can be in position to “catch” those things that will allow us to remain well in this season in mind, body and spirit.

Until next time, choose to live well!

One Response

  1. This was an awesome insight on how to handle Behavioral Contagion. I don’t think we realize how our behaviors can change because of who surrounds us. It’s also hard for us to see ourselves being swept up into unfavorable behaviors because we won’t admit to being so easily influenced by others. That could be a good thing, as well as a really bad one.
    Emotional Distancing is the hardest thing for me personally, but I realize it’s a necessary thing in order to keep myself sane. Not allowing people to take me mentally where I don’t want to go is stressful depending on who it is. The saying “everybody can’t go where God is taking you” is a definite strain on my heart. Thank you for making it clear in plain language how to be able to deal with these issues better.

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