Calgon, take me away

shutterstock_148116878“I am made of rubber. You’re made of glue. Everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” As it turns out, this childhood rhyme can be a useful strategy for coping with stress, even outside of the sandbox.

Which is important because, according to recent headlines, including those in the Star Tribune, stress can be as contagious as germs. That’s right. Mayo Clinic’s Amit Sood, M.D., tells the newspaper that, “Stress travels in social networks and is highly, highly contagious.” He then added, “Secondhand stress -- tension that we pick up from the people and activities around us -- is a natural defense mechanism that helped keep our ancestors alive. But as soon as we pick up that tension, we risk becoming carriers, passing it on to any friends, family members, co-workers or even strangers that we encounter.” (Okay, we’re starting to feel it now.)

And Dr. Sood would know. An expert on stress, he recently published “The Mayo Guide to Stress Free Living,” which offers “a scientifically proven, structured and practical approach to reducing stress.” For those of us who like a step-by-step guide to such matters, Dr. Sood does not disappoint.

Here are a couple of Dr. Sood's tips to help you deal with second-hand stress in your life:

Step 1:  Figure out who’s bugging you and why. (We paraphrase, of course.)

How do you recognize these people? According to Dr. Sood, “These are the people I feel judged by too much. I feel anxious when I’m meeting them ... I find these people unpredictable. They often have high expectations, and I feel like I have to be perfect with them; they are very rigid. And I’ve often found that many of these people have different moral values than mine.”

Step 2:  Figure out what to do about it. (You have several options, but results may vary.) 

  • You can wave your magic wand and try to change the person. (We think this suggestion may have been tongue in cheek, but if anyone has a wand handy you know where to find us.)
  • You can try to get away from them. (Easier said than done.)
  • You can learn how to cope with them. (See below.)

Through his research, Dr. Sood has discovered that the first two options are not all that viable. Which brings us to the third, and the bit about the rubber and the glue. (Phew. We were a bit stressed about how we were going to tie it all together.)

Dr. Sood switches up the metaphor a bit. “Imagine yourself wearing either a Teflon or a Velcro vest,” Dr. Sood told the Tribune. “If it’s Velcro, everything that’s thrown at you will stick. But if it’s Teflon, everything slides off. So if you have to have a confrontation [with a stress-inducer], make sure you have your Teflon vest on. You can’t give that person the key to your heart.”

You can find more about Teflon tactics and other stress advice on Mayo Clinic’s website or in the Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living.

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