How to Stop Absorbing a Coworker’s Stress

Research has documented that we can catch each other’s emotions, a phenomenon known as “emotional contagion” even at work.

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One employee’s anxiety and panic can spread like a virus in milliseconds throughout an entire office, lowering morale and productivity. Happiness can also build in a workplace (known as “positive emotional contagion”), which results in improved employee cooperation, satisfaction, and performance.

Though everyone is susceptible to emotional contagion, it is amplified in empaths and highly sensitive people. The good news is that sensitive people can benefit from all the positive energy that circulates at work. The difficult news is that we can pick up our co-worker’s emotions or illnesses until we learn to avoid taking on their stress.

Why are we so prone to taking on other people’s moods at work?

Everybody has hard days. Unfortunately for many of us, especially those who are highly sensitive, a hard day at your coworker’s desk can turn into a hard day at yours because of your sensitivities. Many offices today are designed to be “open space,” where desks are not separated from each other by walls or they consist of cubicles with simple glass partitions.

Everyone basically shares the same area. You can hear people talking, complaining, gossiping, coughing, blowing their noses, laughing, humming, cracking their gum, and opening candy wrappers. Also, you can smell your neighbors’ perfume or what they’re eating, and see people walking back and forth.

All this means nonstop sensory stimulation. Such lack of privacy makes empaths more vulnerable to taking on their co-workers’ stress.

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There are creative solutions. Shopify, an e-commerce business, surveyed its employees and found they had a balance of introverts and extroverts. So their office designers modified their workplace for both groups. Some sections were noisier and more interactive.

Whereas other officers had high-backed couches that could be rolled into a corner for privacy, and there were specific rooms that resembled cozy libraries for “quiet working.” These design elements offered introverts more space and peacefulness at work. As a result, they weren’t as intensely exposed to their office-mate’s stress.

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Dr. Judith Orloffhttp://www.drjudithorloff.com
Judith Orloff, MD is the New York Times best-selling author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Her new book Thriving as an Empath offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people along with its companion The Empath’s Empowerment Journal. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating highly sensitive, empathic people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google-LA and has a popular TEDX talk. Her other books are Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People, The Empowered Empath’s Journal, Emotional Freedom and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Explore more information about her Empath Support Online course and speaking schedule on www.drjudithorloff.com.
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