In my book "Emotional Freedom," I emphasize the importance of learning how to stay centered in a stressful, highly emotionally charged world. Since research has shown that emotions can be contagious, you can potentially "catch" fear, anger or joy from people without realizing it. If you tend to be an emotional sponge, it's vital to know how to avoid taking on an individual's negative emotions or the free-floating kind in crowds. Another twist is that chronic anxiety, depression or stress can turn you into an emotional sponge by wearing down your defenses. Suddenly, you become hyper-attuned to others, especially those with similar pain. That's how empathy works; we zero in on hot-button issues that are unresolved in ourselves. Negative emotions can originate from several sources. What you're feeling may be your own; it may be someone else's; or it may be a combination. I'll explain how to tell the difference and strategically bolster positive emotions so you don't shoulder negativity that doesn't belong to you.
This wasn't something I always knew how to do. Growing up, my girlfriends couldn't wait to hit the shopping malls and go to parties, and the bigger the better -- but I didn't share their excitement. I always felt overwhelmed, exhausted around large groups of people, though I was clueless why. "What's the matter with you?" friends would say, shooting me the weirdest looks. All I knew was that crowded places and I just didn't mix. I'd go there feeling just fine but leave nervous, depressed or with some horrible new ache or pain. Unsuspectingly, I was a sponge, sensing the emotions of people around me.
With my patients, I've also seen how absorbing other people's emotions can trigger panic attacks, depression, food-, sex- and drug-binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than 2 million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue. It's likely that many of them are emotional sponges.
Here are some strategies from "Emotional Freedom" to practice. They will help you to stop taking on other people's stress.
6 Tips To Stay Centered In A Stressful World
To detach from other people's negative emotions:
- First, ask yourself: Is the feeling mine or someone else's? It could be both. If the emotion such as fear or anger is yours, gently confront what's causing it on your own or with professional help. If not, try to pinpoint the obvious generator. For instance, if you've just watched a comedy, yet you came home from the movie theater feeling blue, you may have incorporated the depression of the people sitting beside you; in close proximity, "energy fields" overlap. The same is true with going to a mall or packed concert.
Keep practicing these strategies. You don't have to reinvent the wheel each time you're on emotional overload. With strategies to cope, you can have quicker retorts to stressful situations, feel safer, and your sensitivities can blossom.