Watching others go through stressful situations, causes your body to also experience stress by releasing cortisol (a stress related hormone), according to a new study.
To prove the existence of empathetic stress, researchers put study participants through stressful situations where they had to perform difficult arithmetic tasks, or go through an interview. Another group of study participants (the observers) watched the stressful situations, either via a two way mirror, or via a video transmission.
26 percent of the observers showed a significant increase in their cortisol levels.
The study also found that couples tend to be more attuned to each other’s stress, with 40 percent of observers who watched their partners go through the stressful situation experiencing an increase in cortisol levels.
The study disproved the myth that women care more when their partners are experiencing stress. Women are just more verbal about it, according to the study. “Women tend to assess themselves as being more empathic compared to men’s self-assessments (in surveys). This self-perception does not seem to hold if probed by implicit measures,” says one of the study’s authors Veronika Engert.
If you’re trying to relax, watching television is not a great way to de-stress, according to the study. 24 percent of observers who watched the participants experience stress via a video transmission, experienced an increase in their cortisol levels.
Although we all need a certain amount of stress to function, stress is also associated with a number of psychological problems such as burnout, depression and anxiety. Take the Men’s Health stress test to see where you stand.