Anxiety as a Contagion

Anxiety as a Contagion
  • Aug 28, 2019

Anxiety as a Contagion

updated Jul 2022

It is no surprise to many that the human brain can catch emotions from others. When people vent - all to often that stress is passed on.

ABC life Matters looked at this very issue with two experts in the field. The take home for this is "Worrying ruminatively (around and around) about what essentially we can do nothing about" "Empower people to make a difference in their lives rather than take it on and worrying on their behalf."

There is also the concept of "won't power" - because the world has so many things to distract you and make you anxious about you really have to be much more selective in your life.

Read on with these rough notes of this important topic.

"Worrying ruminatively (around and around) about what essentially we can do nothing about"
"Empower people to make a difference in their lives rather than take it on and worrying on their behalf."

ABC Life Matters discussed the topic of Staying sane in the age of anxiety from mostly a teen perspective.

Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller and long time educator John Hendry examine the latest research into anxiety as a contagion, and how we can keep it in check.

Life Matters Michael Mackenzie 27/8/2019

Staying sane in the age of anxiety

News ends anxiety begins


Traditionally an individual problem - recently a contagion - we make one another more or less anxious - need to think about how can we calm each other rather than agitating one another.

More evidence we are seeing is that the biggest barrier to young people succeeding is not their brains but their levels of anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety that go beyond the norm-:

Worrying ruminatively (around and around) about what essentially we can do nothing about. One of the confusions in our modern world is that we think worrying is caring, it's not - if I am worrying about someone it is not as if I am doing anything actively to help you.

But I can somehow feel as though my mental activity is sufficient.

When we our anxious our body is calling for action. We need to correct this. Generally the most powerful thing you can do is get up and do something. It can be as simple as sitting down with our notebook and going I am going to write a plan for myself. Or I am going to prioritise the things I am considering doing.

May not be moving directly straight into action - it may be important to lead into some strategic stuff that leads you in to action.

Just getting it out of your head and the treadmill in your mind is important.

ABC: "if I don't get anxiety about meeting a deadline I am often not productive"

Andrew: Yes some anxiety is good. Anytime we take a deadline or a secret challenge or watch a block-buster movie or series we are seeking out anxiety.

But it is how much and how controllable it is and what we do about it. So if we take it away after that deadline is met and still worry about it we are not doing anything constructive at all.


This is all about self compassion, looking after yourself, it is critically important. You really need to look after yourself first and then you start looking after others.
If you are anxious you need to recognise that anxiety and often you don't.

The Felt States

If you are anxious and fearful about something, really this is the old brain "the primal brain" you go cold if you are frightened you go cold, if you are angry then you get hot under the collar.
These are physical states, and studies done on that really show these are felt states that anxiety prompts.
If we become over anxious we loose the perspective of what is going on.

Anxiety Infectious

ABC: Now the research is showing that anxiety can be infectious like a contagion.

John: We have all experienced this where we have walked in to diner party or a class room or a sporting club where there's high anxiety and within a moment we are anxious as well.
What the hell is going on here.
ABC:  How do you turn what is group think into something where you can actually work on yourself while others environmentally are knocking themselves out with anxiety.
John: The first thing I talk to with people I see in therapy is importance of "won't power" not just will power. Because the world has so many things to distract you and make you anxious about you really have to be much more selective in your life.
Start to be discerning - you know what is rubbish and which bits not to be involved in. There are some of your friends issues that you don't need to solve.

Empower people to make a difference in their lives rather than take it on and worrying on their behalf.
Good friendship is a healing factor for all of us. You can still be supportive but you don't worry unnecessarily.

Don't worry ruminatively on something that isn't yours to solve. Your job is to support that person to help them understand what they can do about it - not to do it for them or basically worry on their behalf.

How about you message me after your 3rd drink and we'll just have a brief conversation then.

Major Shooting

People come into therapy with nightmares [after a tragedy like a shooting].
Freddy Kruger can't kill Freddy - modern terrorism is a bit like that we can't contain it ever.
Worrying is not going to solve this - what can we actually do that makes a better world?

Putting things into perspective, if anxiety is really really acute then you are unable to put things into perspective.
If you create a culture that is highly anxious then the people who are brave enough to stand alone and put their feet on the ground are not liked at all.
"you don't care"
Highly anxious people are little like people who are inebriated, there whole senses are in hyper red so they don't understand so their judgement is impaired.
You need to recalibrate you need to come back.


Because it's such a barrage of experience we need to have times away from being provoked into anxiety.
Unless we have recovery times we can't think clearly, but we can't think creatively as well.
One of the problems with anxiety is we are in survival mode so we do the same things over and over again rather than stepping back and inventing a more productive way of dealing with the problem.
Schedule in some days of rest, rituals in our lives where we slip back from the experience.
Time away to reflect on the day. Too busy with reactivity.
Meditation is good for some.
Music is great for others.
Writing plans.

Anxious about being Anxious

When you are anxious you burn a lot of energy, so when you are tired, you are less resilient, you are actually less able to harness the energy needed to bring yourself back. The body at times is unkind to us.
Need something to break the cycle like a good night sleep, maybe a couple of times a week.
Be kind to yourself and as parents of people that are anxious, the only way you will change the behaviour of people that are suffering anxiety is to be kind.
If you go the other path then you'll just increase the anxiety. Self compassion and compassion to others.

Children and Anxiety

Environmental disasters, war, pandemics and the growing impacts of climate change have an impact on children. Research shows that in Australia, the impacts of these types of events are so severe that one in four people with direct experience of a climate change related event met the screening criteria for post-traumaitc stress disorder.

Significant eco-anxiety is being felt especially by younger people and women. According to a 2021 UK online survey -:

Nearly 60% of young people approached said they felt very worried or extremely worried.

More than 45% of those questioned said feelings about the climate affected their daily lives.

Three-quarters of them said they thought the future was frightening. Over half (56%) say they think humanity is doomed.

Two-thirds reported feeling sad, afraid and anxious. Many felt fear, anger, despair, grief and shame - as well as hope.

One 16-year-old said: "It's different for young people - for us, the destruction of the planet is personal."

Climate change: Young people very worried - survey

Parents can help their children reset. Mindfulness workshops by a trained counsellor are an option. A qualified psychologist on the Gold Coast is also a consideration.

Time in Nature is great for children. The waves are still breaking and the birds singing.

Auto Anxiety

"Oh, no. You are kidding. I don't have the time, money, or energy to deal with this today!"

You do not need to be a Time Management expert to take some precautions against a "Auto Anxiety"

Most car problems are 100% preventable

The Household jobs that aren't getting done

In an article on the topic of Systems vs Goals, having goals can be a cause of anxiety because a goal by definition is not achieved. A system however can give you cause for feeling success on the journey.

Tackle one stressful "job" a week and if it is something beyond your skill-set like pest control - call that termite barrier expert and some of your anxiety may be resolved.




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