Do you know how sometimes, even if you are not directly involved in the event, you can still feel tension in the air? This is because humans are adept at picking up on tension other individuals are feeling. This in turn, can cause us to feel stressed out merely by being in the same room as someone else who is tense themselves. So, if you’ve been feeling a little on edge of late, this may be what’s happening to you. You may be picking up the stress of others around you. But what is this type of stress, what causes it, what impact does it have and how can we learn to manage it better? This type of stress is called second-hand stress.

What is second-hand stress?

Second-hand stress is simply feeling stressed out by being around someone experiencing tension or anxiety. It can happen in work and home situations, with family members, colleagues, and friends, all having the potential to pass on their stress to us. Research suggests that we’re particularly vulnerable to second-hand stress when dealing with people we feel close to, as our natural empathy causes us to take on their emotions.

Mental and physical symptoms of second-hand stress

It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of second-hand stress, as this can help you identify it and take steps to protect your well-being. Symptoms of second-hand stress can manifest as both mental and physical which can be damaging both to mind and body.

Mental symptoms of second-hand stress include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or irritable
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Making poor decisions
  • Possessing negative thoughts or gloomy outlook
  • Suffering from low self-esteem

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Physical symptoms of second-hand stress are equally common and include:

  • Stomach problems – when you feel stressed, the liver produces more glucose than normal to keep the body functioning. However, this extra glucose spike may overwhelm your body if you’re under continuous stress leading to problems with the digestive system
  • Muscle pain – stress can cause your muscles to tense up, which may lead to aches, pains, general soreness, and physical discomfort
  • Trouble sleeping – stress can interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep
  • Reduced libido-stress can sap your energy and decrease your interest in sex
  • Fatigue – general ongoing fatigue can be felt in the body-it’s harder to bounce back from fatigue when you’re under a lot of stress, as your body has used up much of its energy reserves
  • Headaches – stress causes the muscles in the head and neck to tighten, leading to tension headaches.

How to identify if you are suffering from second-hand stress

If you suspect you’ve been suffering from second-hand stress, take some time to reflect on your mental and physical state. Ask yourself the following questions:

• Are you feeling overwhelmed, anxious or irritable?
• Are you having difficulty concentrating?
• Are you feeling low in yourself i.e. your self-esteem?
• Have you been experiencing stomach problems, headaches, or muscle pain?
• Are you having trouble sleeping?
• Have you noticed a decrease in your sex-drive?
• Are you feeling restless or having difficulty staying asleep?
• Are you frequently feeling drained of energy?

Effects of constant exposure to second-hand stress

Prolonged exposure to second-hand stress can seriously impact mental and physical health. It can cause us to become overwhelmed by emotions hence making bad judgments about our day-to-day life which in turn may lead to a decrease in the immune system, physical exhaustion, and even depression. It can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and digestive problems. 

Is second hand stress secretly draining you of your energy

Finally, ongoing exposure can also lead to an increased risk of people turning to negative coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, drugs and alcohol, emotional-eating, smoking, illegal and prescription drugs in order to alleviate the tension.

How To protect yourself from second-hand stress

Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself from second-hand stress and, taking care of your health is the single most effective thing you can do to shield yourself from the harmful consequences of stress. If you follow the techniques outlined below for managing your stress levels, you will be able to maintain not only your mental health but also your physical, as well as managing your productivity levels and taking care of your emotional wellbeing. For example:

Set boundaries – it’s important to know when to say ‘no’ and when to distance yourself from stressful situations or people
• Take breaks – make sure you take regular breaks throughout the day, even if it’s just for a few minutes
• Practice relaxation techniques – yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help you relax and unwind
• Get active – exercise releases endorphins, which can help to reduce stress levels and improve your overall mood
• Eat a healthy diet – eating a nutritious, balanced diet can help to boost your energy levels
• Talk about it – talking to a friend or family member about your experiences can help to reduce stress levels
• Seek professional help – if the above steps don’t seem to be helping, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional such as a Stress Management Coach.

Top Tips to make yourself immune from second-hand stress

As we have learnt, second-hand stress can seriously impact our mental and physical health, but we can take steps to protect ourselves from the effects. With the right knowledge and tools, we can make ourselves immune from second-hand stress and remain productive and cheerful in the face of adversity. Following these tips can help to keep your stress levels at bay and ensure that you remain healthy, live with positivity, and feel happy.

1. Dissociate yourself – from the event or the person. It is vital to ensure that you have a healthy emotional distance from the people around you. When working in emotionally taxing fields like social work or healthcare, it is vital to sympathize with your clients and patients. However, it’s also essential to avoid becoming emotionally invested in the situations of your clients and patients. Putting some emotional distance between yourself and a situation does not make you less caring; instead, it reduces the likelihood of becoming emotionally exhausted.

2. Establish clear boundaries – these are necessary to preserve personal space. For example, try spending less time with certain people, refraining from using social media, or leaving the room to collect your thoughts and reassess the situation if you find yourself embroiled in a conversation with someone and it’s not productive.

3. Get enough sleep – ensure you are receiving adequate rest, as sleep deprivation can make the symptoms of second-hand stress much more severe.

4. Figure out what’s causing your anxiety – is it something you’ve been thinking about already or is it coming from somewhere else? Really sit and analyse the source of your stress. Check in with yourself and ask, “Whose tension am I absorbing today?” If upon reflection you realise it’s coming from someone else, then realise it’s essential to have compassion for those struggling; their situation deserves our attention. However, although their anxiety may be devastating, it may not necessarily be an emergency and there is certainly no immediate danger to their life or yours. That means any anxiety you’re feeling from being around them is unwarranted.

Where can I get help to recover from second-hand stress?

If you are feeling overwhelmed by second-hand stress, it is important to seek help. There are several resources available to support your recovery from second-hand stress, including:

  • Professional Coaching, Counselling, or alternative Practitioners
  • Support groups and/or online forums
  • Stress management classes (e.g., meditation or mindfulness)

Receiving help to manage stress can be beneficial in preventing further stress and allowing you to lead a healthier and altogether more contented, happier life. It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with stress is different, and what works for one individual may not work for another. Talk to a friend, family member, Coach or alternative healthcare professional about your experience and learn which coping strategies work best for you.


Yes, second-hand stress is a well-known phenomenon and has been studied by many professional healthcare organisations over several years.

Yes, anyone can be affected by second-hand stress. People who work in environments exposed to high levels of stress or trauma, such as healthcare, social work, or emergency services, can be particularly susceptible to second-hand stress.

The signs and symptoms of stress can vary but often include feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. It’s particularly important to pay attention to your feelings and emotions and notice which people and scenarios trigger stress symptoms in order to determine whether you are being affected by second-hand stress.

The best practices to avoid stress include establishing boundaries, practicing mindfulness, getting enough sleep, and understanding what is causing your anxiety. It is also important to seek help if you feel overwhelmed by second-hand stress.

In addition, taking a few moments for yourself can help to reduce the effects of stress and restore calm to your life. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can help you relax and clear your mind. Taking breaks throughout the day, going for a walk, or simply reading a book can also be beneficial in helping you to manage stress levels. It’s important to remember that second-hand stress is real and can affect our physical and mental health, so it’s important to take steps to protect ourselves from it.


  1. – How to Spot and Avoid Secondhand Stress – found on 23-12-2022
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  2. – 13 Signs You Could Have Secondhand Stress – found on 23-12-2022
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  3. – – found on 23-12-2022
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