The Mirror Effect

I was scrolling through an anxiety support group on Facebook the other day. I like to offer advice and support or give free resources to the people that share their stories of struggle there.

But after reading a few of their stories, I realized that I was starting to feel anxious too. When I became aware of this, I noticed tension in my chest and my breathing was shallow and I felt…off. I closed down my phone, did some emotional regulation techniques to shift my internal environment to something more renewing, and continued on my day.

Later that afternoon, I happened to watch a video that explained what happened to me while I was reading their stories.

We have neurons in our brain called mirror neurons. These neurons make the brain incapable of distinguishing the difference between you having an experience and you watching or listening to another’s experience. This is really amazing. It allows for empathy and for learning.

However, if one is not aware of this, as was in my case with reading the stories in the anxiety support group, one can become more anxious. One may also become more angry, depressed, overwhelmed or other negative emotions by taking in other people’s stories of stress.

Now, hold on a minute! I am not saying that support groups are bad! And I am not saying that we shouldn’t talk about our difficulties and struggles! It is important to hear these stories to know that you are not the only one struggling. It is important to share these stories to get support.

The reason I share this information with you is to increase your awareness.

You know the adage, “you are who you surround yourself with”. Well, this is similar to that. You experience the stories you watch and listen to. If you listen to and surround yourself with anxious people, without having emotional regulation skills to counter the effects, you will experience anxiety. If you listen to angry stories, again, without emotional regulation skills, you will experience anger.

So what is there to do?

Surround yourself with positive people when you can. Listen to and read stories from content, calm, excited, or happy people. (Even try to watch more positive movies and tv shows and you will feel the difference!)

But don’t be afraid to listen to another’s story of struggle. Simply be conscious of how you are feeling while listening and implement emotional regulation techniques to keep the stress out of your system. In this way, you become the best support for them, as now they can mirror your calm and composure.

Be less affected by the negative emotions of others and be more supportive. Learn emotional regulation skills today. Start by filling in this form and we’ll see what’s the right next step for you!

Here’s to conquering stress.

The Stress Experts

Practical Strategies to Deal With Daily Stressors

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