As you can imagine, Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan’s Septemer 2, 2015, article for Harvard Business Review, titled, Make Yourself Immune to Secondhand Stress, grabbed my attention because secondhand drinking-related stress is an example of secondhand stress.
Secondhand drinking refers to the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others and directly affects 90 million Americans and up to 40% of a workforce.
In their article, Achor and Gielan discussed the concept of secondhand stress, writing,
“Observing someone who is stressed — especially a coworker or family member — can have an immediate effect upon our own nervous systems [i.e., secondhand stress].”
The authors further wrote,
“Over the past decade, we have learned how our brains are hardwired for emotional contagion. Emotions spread via a wireless network of mirror neurons, which are tiny parts of the brain that allow us to empathize with others and understand what they’re feeling. When you see someone yawn, mirror neurons can activate, making you yawn, in turn. Your brain picks up the fatigue response of someone sitting on the other side of the room. But it’s not just smiles and yawns that spread. We can pick up negativity, stress, and uncertainty like secondhand smoke. Researchers Howard Friedman and Ronald Riggio from the University of California, Riverside found that if someone in your visual field is anxious and highly expressive — either verbally or non-verbally — there’s a high likelihood you’ll experience those emotions as well, negatively impacting your brain’s performance.” Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan, Make Yourself Immune to Secondhand Stress.
But there are two additional reasons I was so taken with their article.
The first is the Secondhand Drinking – stress connection.
As I wrote in my article for The University of Texas Medial School Center Neurobehavioral Research on Addiction (CNRA)’s Summer 2015 newsletter, titled, “Secondhand Drinking,” (pg. 7),
“SHD directly affects 90 million Americans (the moms, dads, husbands, wives, children) and can affect up to 40% of an agency or company’s workforce. It indirectly affects millions more (in-laws, co-workers, classmates and the community at large). The primary cause of SHD’s impacts on a person is its connection to stress. Coping with drinking behaviors triggers the fight-or-flight stress response system (FFSRS) centered in the limbic system, the “reactionary” part of the brain.
“…Ongoing coping with SHD causes ongoing activation of the FFSRS. This in turn can cause a person to experience psychological and physical problems that interfere with school, work, family and relationships. These impacts include: stomach ailments, sleep disorders, migraines, headaches, changes in eating habits, dizziness, distracted “thinking,” depression, anxiety, memory impairment, heart disease, digestive problems, constant worry.”
This article, The Fight or Flight Stress Response – Secondhand Drinking Connection, shares more on this concept.
The second reason is the ripple effect of a person’s secondhand drinking-drinking related stress in the workplace.
As I explained in my post, Extrapolating the Workplace Costs of Secondhand Drinking,
“[w]orkplace productivity costs are related to unsafe work practices, workplace accidents, absenteeism, late arrivals, early departures and the impacts on co-workers’ product output and workloads, as examples.
Health care expenses for problems caused by [onging activation of the fight-or-flight stress response system, which were described above].”
Because a person’s stress is “contagious,” as Achor and Gielan explained in their article (which is what makes it “secondhand stress” to others), that person’s stress-related angst, anger, frustration, sadness, short fuse or presenteeism and related coping skills, in turn affects co-workers, which in turn impacts a company or agency’s bottom line, to a degree not understood prior to recent research on the brain impacts of stress.
Given secondhand drinking-related stress can affect up to 40 percent of a workforce, it is vitally important to help employees understand its cause, impacts and remedies. And for that, I invite you to contact me or check out my latest project write-up, Solution to Reduce Workplace Impacts of Alcohol Misuse and Secondhand Drinking.