Being around a stressed person or witnessing a stressful event can induce feelings of stress, according to a study conducted by The Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Technische Universitat Dresden.
The conclusion is the result of a large-scale cooperation project which found that empathic stress arose primarily when the person who was watching and the person who was experiencing stress were partners in a relationship and the stressful situation could be directly observed through a oneway mirror.
Specifically, 26 percent of observers who were not actually exposed to any stress showed a significant increase in the stress hormone cortisol. Moreover, the effect was significantly strong when the “observer” and stressed individual were partners in a couple relationship.
For the study, participants were subjected to difficult mental arithmetic tasks and interviews. The result – only five percent managed to remain clam while the others “displayed a physiologically significant increased in their cortisol levels.”
Stress is a major factor in the lives of students who are planning on applying to medical school. It can cause many problems like anxiety, depression, and even feelings of being burnt out. And even for premeds who manage to keep their stress under control, the chances that they are around individuals who are stressed is high,
“The fact that we could actually measure this empathic stress in the form of a significant hormone release was astonishing,” says Veronika Engert, one of the study’s first authors.