Unhappiness Is Contagious: Protect Yourself This Holiday Season

Before you start analyzing why you’re in a bad mood, take a good look at who you’re spending time with.

When I was in graduate school for Chinese Medicine I read old passages on the dangers of catching “Evil Qi” from people.

As esoteric as these words sounded, they were eerily relatable. I knew firsthand that my mood could go up and down like a yo-yo depending on who I was around.

It became a geeky trade joke amongst us Acupuncturists. We'd come back from Holiday break more stressed than before and talk about how so and so got us with their Evil Qi.

It turned out we were onto something.

In the last decade, Western Psychology has done extensive research on what they call Emotional Contagion. It's a phenomenon whereby we pick up the feelings, attitudes, thoughts and behaviors of people that we're exposed to.

Research studies have shown that we can catch everything from obesity, to smoking, to depression and negative thinking. Happiness is also contagious but according to biophysicist Allison Hill to a much lesser degree.

“Each happy friend increased an individual’s chances of personal happiness by 11%, while just one sad friend was needed to double an individual’s chance of becoming unhappy.”

How “catchy” these states of mind are depends on several factors including: how sensitive we are to subtle cues, how strong their tendency is, and how closely connected to the person we are.

Apparently, we are so linked to our family members and lovers that not only do we mimic their thoughts and feelings, we mirror their physiology.

Holidays can be a challenging time of year because to greater and lesser degrees, we’re all affected by spending time with family.

If you’re a sensitive person around emotionally out-of-balance family members during the Holidays, you hit the unfortunate “Evil Qi” Trifecta.

To change unwanted patterns the first step is always awareness. Until you understand the root, you wind up looking for solutions in all the wrong places.

Recognizing that your bad mood is due to contagion gives you the perspective and ability to quit the unhealthy thought cycle and regain balance.

However, awareness alone only works well with colleagues and strangers. Unsurprisingly, it’s not enough when it comes to family.

Researcher Elaine Hatfield’s study showed that even when people knew what was happening they could rarely resist the pull for more than a few hours. After that, they started craving a time-out and a nap.

If the stressful situation continued people would get tired “and then start mimicking other people's behavior. It's a surprisingly short time.”

The key to preventing emotional infection this Holiday season is to boost your Energetic Immune System.

Here are some of my favorite tips:

1. Set your protection bubble. 

Whether you believe in energy or not setting an intentional energetic boundary goes a long way to priming your unconscious to ward off contagion.

2. Breathe. 

Part of what happens with family is we regress into old personas and ways of thinking. Deep, grounding breaths can bring you back to the present and the person you are today. It also kicks in your Parasympathetic Nervous system, which is your body’s natural anti-anxiety switch.

3. Keep it short. 

If you can avoid toxic relatives, that’s great but sometimes "no" is not an option. Instead, try to design your time together in shorter doses. As Hatfield explained, if you’re mindful, you have a few hours before you start slipping into the stream of family consciousness, so two hours or less is best. If that’s not possible, take a walk or time-out every couple of hours to recollect your balance.

4. Tap your tribe. 

Bring along or call someone you feel totally yourself with. Talk about something you love, vent, or ask them to remind you of who you really are.

If you have an intense family, you may want to pre-schedule an appointment with a psychotherapist or Life Coach right after to snap you back to present-day orientation.

5. Find compassion. 

Compassion’s my favorite antidote. It's the most effective way to activate the positivity area in your brain, which gets your thoughts cycling in the right direction. Also, a compassionate attitude naturally wonders why someone would be so stressed, anxious, hurtful ...

This inquiry implicitly reminds your unconscious that you and they are separate, thus breaking the energetic entanglement commonly leading to Emotional Contagion.

Sometimes clients waste time and money with me analyzing why they’re depressed when the real culprit lies in who they spend time with. If you’ve been grappling with moods or negativity first pay close attention to the impact people have on you.

It just might be time for a New Year's Relationship Detox!

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