I once had a professor that explained to my class how "anxiety is contagious". This made perfect sense to me as I reflected on growing up and feeling keenly aware of my family and friends' emotional experiences (positive or negative). Those seemingly contagious feelings of anxiety in my stomach and the effects of carrying other people's feelings as my own were disguised as a necessity to show how much I cared. Little did I realize there is a big difference between empathy and choosing to take on others’ emotional experiences.
I am sure that as you have grown, you have noticed yourself able to "feel" what other people are feeling. When a friend or loved one is sad, perhaps you feel sad with them. Other times, perhaps you have been around someone who was angry and displaying erratic or unnerving behavior. Did it set you off as well? Typically, when one person's emotional thermometer rises, ours begins to rise with it.
But does it have to be this way?
Do you have to be like a chameleon and take on the emotional colors of those around you? Is there no other choice?
I think not.
Learning how to emotionally regulate yourself can be one of the most empowering and healthy skills you can acquire. I will share with you a few ways it has changed my life:
1. I can be in the midst of someone else's emotional crisis and not react in a emotional way.
2. Not only can I be in the midst of an emotional crisis and stay calm, I no longer experience internal physical or psychological symptoms of my own anxiety while doing so.
3. Engaging directly with people in emotional crisis does not have to emotionally drain me.
4. I can respect and acknowledge someone else's emotional experience while also respecting and loving myself enough to stay level headed.
So…if you suspect that perhaps you are an emotional chameleon, as I once was, know that there is a way to acquire skills and a healthier mindset to better serve you. I would imagine that the above ideals seem a little more enticing than living at the will of everyone else’s emotional temperature. I can say it has made a world of difference for me.