Anxiety Is Contagious. Here’s How to Protect Yourself.

Have you ever spent time talking to a stressed out friend, only to find yourself walking away from the conversation with scrunched shoulders, a furrowed brow, and a head full of concerns? Then you’ve probably experienced anxiety contagion.

That’s right, emotions are actually contagious. And while this can sometimes work out in our favor–talking to a friend in a good mood can boost your mood by 25 percent!–it can also cause a lot of harm.

We all have enough stress in our lives; we don’t need to absorb more stress and anxiety from others. Stress can be responsible for maladies like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, autoimmune disorders, adrenal fatigue, and so much more. We don’t need any more of it, thank you very much.

Anxiety Contagion Study

While there has been some debate as to whether stress and anxiety are actual emotional states (and therefore contagious), preliminary research seems to say they are.

In a recent study on mice, pairs of mice were placed into a cage. One was taken out and exposed to a mild form of stress. The stressed mouse was then returned to its cage. Brain scans were taken of both mice, and while the stressed mouse’s scan was reflective of a stressful experience, the other mouse’s was the same.

It seems that the other mouse felt just as stressed, even though nothing had happened to it. It mirrored the other mouse’s anxiety. Scientists believe that the stress was communicated via stress-induced pheromones that the other mouse could smell.

On an evolutionary level, this contagion of stress and anxiety makes sense. It puts the unstressed creature on alert, should the same dangers come around again. And for us humans with our big communicative brains, body language, and even pheromones, this type of stress-sharing happens even more easily.

Anxiety is Contagious. Here's How to Protect Yourself.

How to Stop the Spread of Anxiety

Knowing that anxiety can be contagious is useful, because you can take concerted measures to stop it. Here are a few tips to help you avoid contracting a bout of someone else’s anxiety.

Communicate positively.

If someone close to you is stressed or anxious, try to use positive language when chatting with them. Focus on the positive and be mildly upbeat.

Think of a positive outlook as your shield. Maybe it won’t solve their anxiety issues, but at least you won’t get swept in to them yourself.


If you are a super-empathizer, you’re probably well aware that you easily absorb others’ emotions. If you know someone who is often in a less stable emotional state, or you find yourself in a conversation with a highly stressed person, the best thing you can do for yourself is to walk away and avoid them.

I know, as a highly empathetic person, you want to help and support them. But you also need to make sure that you don’t get dragged down into that dark place alongside them. Instead, you should…

Spend time by yourself.

Alone time is the best way to let yourself heal from rogue emotions. Take yourself out of toxic situations, unplug your tech, and be alone with you.

You can meditate, exercise, bake a cake, do whatever you want. There is no better way to recalibrate how you feel than to just get reacquainted with yourself.

Don’t disregard technology.

Even if a person isn’t directly in front of you, you can still contract their emotional state. Yes, we’re talking about the internet.

Oftentimes, when we see someone we love and respect ranting about something on Twitter or Facebook, that thing starts bothering us, too. You could have been in a great mood, but suddenly you’re swept up into someone else’s stressful dialogue and you become filled with stress, anxiety, and rage yourself–for practically no reason.

Just look at Twitter–it’s the perfect case study of this phenomenon. It can easily become a toxic echo chamber where everyone is angry, anxious, and upset, but there is no tangible resolution. To avoid absorbing external anxiety, stay off Twitter and Facebook the majority of the time, especially if you’re highly empathetic and prone to getting sucked in to other people’s emotional states.

Deflecting the contagious emotions of others is a form of self-care. While it is good to be there for someone in their time of need, be conscious about how much energy and positivity you are draining from yourself in the process. You can’t do anyone any good if you get stressed out, too.

Related on Care2

Images via Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Ruth S
Ruth S4 months ago


hELEN hEARFIELD4 months ago


Lydia B
Lydia Bolmer6 months ago

While this article states some truths, it is nevertheless a little superficial. Walking away is not always a viable solution. While it is good to be not too sensitive, we cannot just solve the problem by staying away from friends and family just because they have an emotional problem. I expected a little more in depth discussion from this article.

Apil Dawn
Apil Dawn7 months ago

Who is writing this stuff? I am horrified by this article. For so many reasons. I don't need to mention the mice as everyone seems to care about them, and that is good. But seriously, you read a friend's post on facebook and we get anxious "for practically nothing"? Talk about minimizing and just being an insensitive ass. There are many issues going on - REAL problems in our society, that hurt real people - and they tell you about it and you are supposed to assume it is unimportant and avoid the person - your supposed friend? They are being sexually harassed? Bullied at work and don't know how to deal with it and are anxious they will lose their job? Their rent went up and they are anxious about being homeless? There are infinite examples of real life legitimate problems people face in life and feel anxious about - yes - of course you take care of yourself and set boundaries and limits. But this article doesn't talk about that. It flat out assumes that what the person is anxious about is "practically nothing" and tell you to leave?. I would never treat a friend that way, and I sure wouldn't want to be treated that way. How could this toxic writing even be allowed on a site called "care2". This article is about being insensitive and in denial, and not being a friend at all. Think how it would be if we all treated each other like that - all the time. I am sad this was even considered as appropriate to be posted. And I am a very sensitive

berny p
berny p7 months ago

Good tips...know what you mean!

Chrissie R
Chrissie R7 months ago

Anxiety is a mental illness that is NOT contagious. If you're suggestible you might adopt some of the symptoms....

Beryl Ludwig
Beryl Ludwig8 months ago

yes I have experienced this. Good tips thanks.

Cindy S
Cindy Smith8 months ago

I don't think u can catch it like the flu

Aldana W
Aldana W8 months ago

I know from experience that what this article this points out is true. Other people's unhappiness can rub off on others and so can joy. Thanks