Why We Can’t Avoid Stress

Why We Can’t Avoid Stress

It’s almost midnight but I’m still in the office. I keep on glancing at the clock hoping that it would stop. I am finishing a report that my boss needs for her nine o’clock meeting the next morning. And I know there’s no way that I can finish this report without a decent amount of shuteye.

We had a big event two weeks before and last week I was on a research trip. That would mean that my work in the office somehow got stalled which is not helping our already undermanned team.

Suddenly, I feel a tightening on my upper back. It creeps on my shoulder and made its way to my neck. I begin to gag because I cannot breathe. I pushed myself up to breath. I shut down my computer and put all my things in my bag. I went home.


I was just a year out of college. Yes, I know what stress was like in school – preparing for exams, dealing with obnoxious professors, analyzing complex math problems, and etc. But my education never fully prepared me for the multitude of stress that awaits me outside the campus.

People today are subject to a lot of stressors compared to past generations. The pressure to achieve more and our futile attempt to achieve perfection has pushed us to our very own edge. A healthy dose is stress (eustress) is beneficial as we humans are naturally inclined to do our best when exposed to some challenges. But being exposed to constant stress (distress) is an issue. More and more people are getting heart attacks, diabetes, kidney troubles, ADHD, and depression. Even children are not safe anymore to environmental stress.

Stress is Contagious

A 2018 study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Calgary revealed that stress can be transmitted to others.

Their study involves a pair of male and female mice. They expose the male mouse to mild stress and then put it back together in a cage with the female mice. The researchers observed the response of the CRH neurons which control the brain’s response to stress. They saw that the brains of both the male and female were altered in the same way.

“We readily communicate our stress to others, sometimes without even knowing it. There is even evidence that some symptoms of stress can persist in family and loved ones of individuals who suffer from PTSD. On the flip side, the ability to sense another’s emotional state is a key part of creating and building social bonds,” said Jaideep Bains, one of the study’s lead author.

We Mimic Each Other

Ever wonder why a certain family or group behaves in a certain way that is far different from what we usually people do?

Take this as an example:
– The Dani tribe Indonesia has a bizarre way of expressing their grief of the death of their loved ones. They compulsively cut a segment of one of their fingers and burn the fingertips to create new scar tissues.
– An unthinking passenger hid a young crocodile inside a duffle bag and boarded a plane in Congo. During the flight, the crocodile got loose. The plane nosed down because all passengers rushed towards the cockpit where the pilot was located. The crocodile was so small to fit in a big and won’t probably give anyone a nasty bite. It was the passengers’ panic that caused the accident.
– The fidget spinner craze went global with over 200 million pieces sold. Fidget spinner. Seriously.

We feel each other’s emotions not only out of sympathy but also because of our “mirror neurons.” These neurons allow us to bring back our own memories of a similar event and let us experience the same emotions we feel during that time even if that event took place a long time ago.

Thus, mirror neurons become our source of secondhand stress when they bring us back memories of bad and traumatic experiences. And sometimes, these emotions override sound reasons that people forget to realize that they are doing irrational things, especially during stressful times.
Our own neurological wirings make us more prone to stress. The challenges and difficulties of everyday life just make it worse. But we can choose to be stronger and wiser – we can take care of ourselves before stress becomes our toughest foe to defeat. Having enough rest and sleep, eating healthily, exercising regularly, and creating a generally balanced life are just some of the effective ways to keep yourself formidable from stress.

If you are still too stressed out even after reading this article, maybe it’s time to get your fidget spinner.