Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


5 Ways Stressed-Out People May Infect You With Stress

And 3 ways to protect yourself.

Key points

  • When you enter the orbit of a stressed-out person, your senses are likely to come under attack.
  • Stressed-out people induced stress in others by creating confusion, violating boundaries, and burdening others with demands.
  • Insulate yourself against stress inducers by limiting contact, setting clear boundaries, and standing your ground.
Source: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash
Source: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

After grad school, I was assigned a clinical supervisor who was always in a state of crisis.

She picked at her nails, took phone calls during our sessions, complained about the clinic’s financial problems, her busy schedule, health issues, and her aging cat. She constantly sighed, shifted in her seat, and shuffled through mounds of files on her desk, sometimes knocking them to the floor. It was as if a thousand tiny electric shocks pulsated through her body and filled the air around her with tension and chaos.

After several sessions, I noticed a strange phenomenon: The moment I entered her office, my mind became foggy. I became forgetful. I lost my train of thought and couldn’t think straight. Yet, an hour after our session, I was my old self again.

What kind of spell did my supervisor cast on me? She contaminated me with her stress.

5 ways stressed-out people infect you with their stress

When you enter the orbit of a stressed-out person, your senses are likely to come under attack. Here’s why.

Stressed-out people tend to:

1. Create confusion

Constantly sharing their worries or changing their minds, stressed-out people frequently induce feelings of confusion and psychic tension in others.

2. Violate boundaries

Stressed-out people tend to overshare, blurt out inappropriately, or invade your physical space.

3. Shift moods

Like an unstable weather pattern, stressed-out people come across as unstable, making them difficult to predict or adjust to.

4. Demand relief

Stressed-out people long for relief that never seems to materialize. For this reason, they are quick to burden you with requests or demands.

5. Hold you hostage

Most of us naturally avoid stressed-out people but can’t escape a stressed-out boss or manager. In a work situation, they exploit the hierarchy of power on the job to hold you hostage. They feel free to vent their stress or spew toxic opinions because they feel they have power over you.

How to insulate yourself against toxic stress inducers

Feels are contagious, partially when it comes to stress. Insulating yourself against stress inducers is key to keeping your sanity. Here are three ways to protect yourself from absorbing their stress:

1. Limit contact.

Whenever possible, keep your distance; try not to spend too much time with the chronically stressed.

2. Stand your ground.

Disagree, talkback, point out errors, don’t tolerate their endless venting. Find a way to excuse yourself. Stressed out people will be less likely to burden you.

3. Set clear boundaries.

Stressed-out people are often emotional bullies. Be sure to set strong boundaries and hold to them. If they make you feel uncomfortable or violate your boundaries, speak up, tell a friend, or contact HR at your company.


Still feeling stressed? These articles may help: