Anxiety Is a Contagion

Image Description: A series of black dominos with quite dots; the ones in the back have fallen, and the ones in the front are about to fall. Public domain image.

Many years ago, I worked in a context where everyone worked with their office doors closed. There may be many reasons for this — needing quiet, having a place to focus, or other kinds of needs entirely. That context was filled with lovely, supportive people, but this happened to be a very stressful period of time in our collective history. Some part of me wonders if we all kept our doors closed because stress pheromones were constantly floating through the air in that space.

Anxiety can function like a contagion. We can pick up on the anxious energy of others through body language and yes, even pheromones. We may also be anxious about similar concerns, and someone’s anxiety may evoke our own. That same anxiety in a person or community may also trigger older, stressful storylines from our lives. The anxiety can grow.

Sometimes, we need space alone or in small groups of non-anxious (at the moment) people so we can ground ourselves again and regulate or co-regulate our nervous systems.

In a remarkably anxious period of time, it is okay and helpful to take that space, both for ourselves and for the collective circles of people we love.

Renee Roederer

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