Emotional contagion

Emotions Are Contagious; Manage What Spreads

“A healthy attitude is contagious but don’t wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier.” Tom Stoppard

Similar to COVID-19, emotions are contagious and the strategies to respond to emotional contagion are not dissimilar to those recommended for COVID-19. However, emotional strategies are much simpler and they are more likely to improve economic performance as people with higher EQ tend to perform higher.

As Daniel Goleman, renowned for his work on Emotional Intelligence, reports “Mirror neurons make emotions contagious, letting feelings we witness flow through us, helping us get in synch and follow what’s going on. We ‘feel’ the other in the broadest sense of the word: sensing their sentiments, their movements , their emotions as they act insides us.”

So what can you do to manage emotional contagion?

CHECK IN Get into the habit of checking in with your own feelings – this will help you spot when a feeling is yours or if you have ‘absorbed’ or ‘taken on’ someone else’s feelings

NOTICE OTHERS – be curious about what other people are feeling and notice how they express their emotions. Some people have a pattern of being negative with one of the worst patterns being the ‘Energy Vampire’ who sucks positive energy out of a room. If you feel that at least some of your emotion is someone else’s there are a few strategies that might work to manage the impact of their emotions on you:

  • SOCIAL DISTANCE Choose to distance yourself physically and socially (for example on social media) from ‘negative’ people
  • ADOPT HYGIENE PRACTISES When you have been in an emotionally draining interaction, imagine yourself washing the emotions off yourself. Some people find it useful to physically wipe the emotions off their arms & legs etc as the physical action activates the bodymind connection helping you to ‘wipe’ it out of your mind
  • SHOW EMPATHY Feeling what someone else is feeling with them, rather than trying to ‘fix’ them, is really powerful for them and you. By helping them reframe their thinking and work on strategies to move forward will process their emotions. As they do this you will notice the emotions being processed in yourself too
  • LET THEM PASS WITHOUT ATTACHMENT Emotions are energy and information. If we suppress them we can suffer physically & mentally, resisting them can be exhausting and attaching to them and the thoughts that accompany them means that we suffer too. By acknowledging them as energy and information and allowing them to pass through your body without attaching to them enables you to be there for others without being ‘infected’ yourself – a bit like wearing PPE!
  • COUNTER-ATTACK WITH POSITIVITY Whilst this might not always be appropriate or achievable, you can choose to switch the mood with an injection of positive thoughts and feelings – an antidote to negativity

And finally, be responsible for your own emotions especially when:

  • You are a leader or role model for others
  • You are with vulnerable people
  • You have a strong energy

Emotions drive behaviours and emotions are contagious. What results do you want and what behaviours will help you achieve these results? Choose the emotions you want to catch and the ones you want to spread to trigger these behaviours.


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