Anxiety is Contagious

Emotional states can be very contagious, infectious even – have you ever noticed a cute little baby smiling and giggling? What is your response? To smile back. Smiling is contagious, laughing is contagious.

States such as anger, anxiety, depression, frustration can also be contagious.

Right now, in the middle of a declared global pandemic, there are so many uncertainties, so much change, so much that is outside of our own individual control that there is bound to be a significant increase in the levels of anxiety. Anxiety is designed to keep us alive. Anxiety is there to alert us to potential threats. However, for some people, this tips over into becoming an almost unconscious, automated process that runs in the background. This process produces a lot of stress hormones and these, as well as the more obvious cues such as a fast-paced voice, jittery actions, hyper-vigilance, can be picked up on by those around us – especially children.

Ever heard of the statement ‘monkey see, monkey do’?

Well, that’s exactly how children learn. They interpret the world around them by using their senses – all of them. They interpret states based on what they see, they model the behaviour of those around them – not only the physical behaviours but also the unconscious states they see displayed both verbally and non-verbally.

Neuroscience reports that up to 80% of communication is non-verbal. That means that children are constantly picking up non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, tone, speed and pitch of voice, hormone levels. And in our experience, many children have ‘spidey’ senses. They know when adults and others around them are in a heightened state of alert. That then increases their alert systems, and they start feeling anxious too.

The problem is that when this happens, the child (or person) does not know why they have a heightened state of alert. Their senses have not picked up any cues of their own, they have simply picked up on others. This then escalates the state of anxiety as the state of confusion has also been added. Uncertainty and unpredictability can be a catalyst for anxiety.

With unprecedented levels of enquiries from parents asking for help with their anxious children, we often see that the parents are anxious as well. Often, we work with both, teaching skills to the parents so that they can learn to resolve their anxiety and we proactively encourage this, otherwise, we see the children returning to us having initially seen confident improvement only to have the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ undo all the positive changes that the child has made.

If you need extra support to help your child be more confident and calmer, especially in times of chaos, uncertainty, and unpredictability, then demonstrate how to deal with life by how you respond. If you suffer from anxiety, then seek ways to change this for yourself as well as your child.

The skills and strategies we teach are derived from neuroscience that was originally created to benefit adults. We’ve simply adapted them to be more applicable to children, the outcome of the skills and strategies are the same, no matter your age.

If you recognise that you or your child, or both, are struggling with anxiety and you would like to be coached in ways to help you both to overcome it and feel more confident and calmer then please say