The flu season is in full force. Everyone around us is hacking and wheezing. Legions of co-workers are calling in sick. The kids have been home from school for five days.
Theres an equally viral infection that never makes headlines yet is with us all year long. Its an emotional contagion that infects how we think and feel.
An emotional contagion is present when moods spread quickly from one person to another. For instance, if were exposed to anothers cheeriness, we instantly feel better ourselves.
But an emotional contagion can also be a real downer. Just as we respond to anothers happiness, were impacted by bad moods, as well.
We can all recall incidences of this happening. A group of people is laughing, feeling upbeat. Then someone arrives and starts talking politics or complaining about conditions at work. The mood instantly turns somber. Warm fuzzies become ice cold. The bad vibes spread faster than pink eye at a summer camp. No ones immune to the pox.
Carriers seldom recognize what theyre doing. Theyre often asymptomatic themselves. Yet they act as emotional Typhoid Marys, spreading gloom wherever they go.
Some folks spread emotional contagions out of habit. Every conversation begins with I just hate ... or Those jerks in Congress ... They cant wait to share news of their latest mishap. Aches and pains are always grist for the conversational mill.
Theyre hoping youll join them in their gripe fest. They thrive in the aint-it-awful mode. They gleefully infest others with their psychic malaise. Theyre happiest when you feel rotten, too.
This doesnt mean every conversation needs to be rosy. Of course, there are times when we need to discuss painful topics or hear the latest details of anothers travails.
In those cases, we can serve as good listeners. We can attend to the problems that need addressing. Its time to don our capes and become Mr. or Ms. Fix It as we focus on something thats out of whack.
When thats over, were back to business as usual. Our thoughts return to positive and calm. Well feel oh-so-much better. Others will catch our mood, too.
How to avoid spreading - and catching - harmful emotional contagions
Listen to your own words. Notice the subjects you choose to talk about. If most of your conversations are about things that make you unhappy, then youre spewing emotional germs.
Enlist the help of others. Ask those around you about your conversational habits. Then be willing to listen to what they say. Theyll be able to accurately tell you how theyre impacted by what you say.
Choose cheerful topics. Find something you feel good about or share a story that makes you smile. Your inner joy will be apparent to everyone you meet.
Stay away from politics. Politics are sanctioned complaining. Folks discuss them so they can feel mutually angry and distrustful. You dont have to give up politics. Vote and lobby as you see fit. Just keep your opinions to yourself. Dont allow them to spoil others moods.
Avoid talking about your problems and ailments. We all have aches and pains. We have issues with our kids, spouses and bosses. We dont want to hear about your daily soap opera. Unless youre in a support group, keep those problems to yourself.
To avoid catching emotional contagions:
Steer clear of depressing people. Make it a priority to associate with upbeat folks who cast positive energy in their wakes. Youll benefit from their feel-good vibes. Youll learn how to spread good cheer, too.
Watch your own thoughts. If you want to avoid lifes Eeyores, you begin the process at home. Make sure your own psychic energy is constructive and that its free from unnecessary angst.
Discard bad thoughts ASAP. Its inevitable that youll pick up some bad karma. Its a virus youre trying hard not to catch. When you notice it in your airwaves, change the channel. Redirect your thinking, stat. Replace harmful thoughts with healthier ones. Meditate on topics that enhance your well-being. Then repeat the process until youre symptom free.
Linda Lewis Griffith local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.