Stress isn’t just contagious – other people’s stress could change your brain.

A study has found that stress transmitted from others can change the brain in the same way as real stress does.

“Brain changes associated with stress underpin many mental illnesses including PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression. Recent studies indicate that stress and emotions can be ‘contagious’. Whether this has lasting consequences for the brain is not known,” says Jaideep Bains, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Calgary.

Related: How to relieve stress in 2018

Stress in pairs

Bains’s research team studied the effects of stress in pairs of male or female mice.

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“We readily communicate our stress to others, sometimes without even knowing it…” – Prof Jaideep Bains

They removed one mouse from each pair and exposed it to a mild stress before returning it to its partner.

They then examined the responses of a specific population of cells, specifically CRH neurons which control the brain’s response to stress, in each mouse.

They found that networks in the brains of both the stressed mouse and naïve partner were altered in the same way.

“What was remarkable was that CRH neurons from the partners, who were not themselves exposed to an actual stress, showed changes that were identical to those we measured in the stressed mice,” says the study’s lead author, Toni-Lee Sterley, a postdoctoral associate in Prof Bains’s lab.

We share our stress

Prof Bains suggests that these findings may also be present in humans.

“We readily communicate our stress to others, sometimes without even knowing it. There is even evidence that some symptoms of stress can persist in family and loved ones of individuals who suffer from PTSD. On the flip side, the ability to sense another’s emotional state is a key part of creating and building social bonds.”

Source: University of Calgary via

Related: How running protects you from chronic stress

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