What is second hand stress? Second hand stress happens when you see a loved one, friend, or maybe even a co-worker who is very stressed. You can tell she is stressed by her facial expressions, body language and her gestures. Have you ever walked into a room and felt the tension so thick you could cut it with a knife? Your friend is out of sorts and you know you need to scrape her off the ceiling? There is a catch phrase circulating around called "mirror Neurons". These are complex cells that help us to interpret the motives, emotions and intentions of others'. These little neurons trick us into believing that we have the same facial expressions and body language of our friend and so we respond with a corresponding emotion. This is what aids us in being empathetic. When we see our friend being stressed we begin to think things like, " I'm not doing enough"' I'm responsible for how she's feeling", " her stress is my stress" or even "I can't say no". So we compensate by "over helping". How do we break this habit? As women it is hardwired into our brains, see someone struggling we must fix this. So how do we overcome the "traps" we so easily become mired in?
- "I'm not doing enough": imagine your friend has invited you over for a nice Sabbath meal. You can see her rushing around trying to get everything ready. You really want to help but she won't let you. How do you get out of this trap? Compliment your friend, " this meal is beautiful, you really put the Micheff Sisters to shame". By doing this you notice the anxiety but are spinning it in a positive direction. You show that you recognize how much effort your friend is putting into the meal and then show respect by sitting down as she asked you to do.
- I'm responsible for how she's feeling: How many times have we gathered together with our families and felt pressure on yourself to make everyone feel happy? Recognize that people are in control of their own happiness. When you start to feel irritable or frustrated that people aren't feeling or doing what you want them to. Stop and adjust your expectations. Focus on family members that are happy and hope that the rest will follow suite.
- "Your stress is my stress": your "to do list" is going well but your friends are scrambling and struggling with their "to do " lists. Your friends are becoming frantic and you are struggling to not become part of their emotions. We must be very careful about the stories we do tell ourselves. If our friends say something negative or sigh you might tell yourself that your friend is upset with you. Ask yourself a couple of questions. First what more do I need to understand about the situation. What questions do I need to ask so I understand better? Secondly , what do I need to understand about myself and why I'm responding in this manner? Did I really play a part in this scenario? Take the time to rewrite your story into a positive story.
- "I can't say no". This two letter word is one of the hardest for us to say. "No". How often have we seen someone stressed and said yes even though we are already overloaded and overwhelmed? Prayerfully consider each request asking for God's leading. There may be times when God is saying no I have something else I want you to do and I have someone else in mind to help. Consider using the phrase " I'm sorry this doesn't work for me at this time."
Matthew 6: 25-34 tells us, " Therefore I bid you put away anxious thoughts about food and drink to keep you alive, and clothes to cover your body. Surely life is more than food, the body more than clothes. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are worth more than the birds ! Is there a man of you who by anxious thought can add a foot to his height? And why be anxious about clothes? Consider how the lilies grow in the fields; they do not work, they do not spin, and yet, I tell you even Solomon in all his splendor was not attired like one of these. But if that is how God clothes the grass in the fields, which is there today, and tomorrow is thrown on the stove, will he not all the more clothe you? How little faith you have! No, do not ask anxiously, "what are we to eat? What are we to drink? What shall we wear?" All these are things for the heathen to run after not for you, because your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Set your mind on God's kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will cone to you as well. So do not be anxious about tomorrow; tomorrow will look after itself. Each day has troubles enough of its own." The English Bible.