Emotional Contagion

Four Ways to Emotionally Protect Yourself and Your Children

Right now, we are all trying to avoid catching illness. As a society we are increasing our awareness of germs and how we spread germs so that we can conduct our lives in an informed manner. Like germs and viruses, we are also spreading something else: our emotions. Research shows that our own personal emotions are often influenced by those around us, we call it emotional contagion.

So, if we are surrounded by people that are calm, playful, and happy we will tend to be more calm, playful, and happy ourselves. But if we are around others that are anxious, fearful, or angry we can quickly experience those same emotions.

Grocery Store Stress

For example, the other day I was driving around town with my family we had our windows down and playing music singing together. It was beautiful, all were smiling. We decided to make a quick stop where the family waited in the car while I went in to grab a few things. I noticed that as I loaded my cart with groceries people near me were arguing about a lack of items in the store. Just witnessing that interaction made me feel a bit more anxious. As I navigated the aisles with increased anxiety, I became sensitive to the behavior of others. I was worried someone might take something out of my cart! Mere minutes ago, I was happily praising God and now I find myself in a store worried that people might take things from my cart! As I walked out of the store with groceries in tow, I took a big breath thinking, “Wow, I am glad we did not go in there as family.”

As a father I want to protect my children from that stress, but now walking out of that store I am carrying that stress with me. How do I protect them from the stress I have?

It can be so easy for us to spend our day consuming media about COVID-19 in hopes of staying informed, but that won’t help us reduce anxiety or limit stress.

Here are four practical ways you can emotionally protect yourself and your children:

  1. Remember the facts:
    • No, I am not talking about facts about COVID-19 or percentages of people infected. I am not talking about how much you have stocked up or any other circumstance. The fact I am referring to is the most important truth that does not change. God the creator of everything sustains us. Take some time to read Psalm 46. You read the psalmist experiencing some scary circumstances (oceans roar, nations roar, the earth melts) but he reminds himself that “The LORD Almighty is with us…” Later God says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations.”
    • Greater than the facts of our circumstances is the unchanging truth that God is in control and he sees us. He knows what we are experiencing. Take a look at these verses:
    • “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2
    • “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” Lamentation 3:37-38
    • “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32
    • “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heave; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.” Psalm 11:4
    • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
  2. Examine Yourself: As you consider the truth that God is all powerful and he cares for you and will work all things for our good, I encourage you to take a look at your thoughts and emotions and examine if you are living according to the above truths. In Psalm 139, as David reflects on how God knows him intimately, he prays this prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Psalm 139:23-24
  3. Target Your Anxiety: In the midst of our anxious situation how many of us would like to exchange our worry for some peace? We would do well to follow God’s answer to anxiety in Philippians 4:5-7: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  4. Let Joy and Peace be Your Breath of Fresh Air: Did you notice what I did as I walked out of the store? I took a deep breath. Deep breathing is one of the most important things you can intentionally do when you are stressed. Deep breathing will change your brain chemistry and can reduce your anxiety. Second Timothy 1:7 says, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and sound mind.” The last word of the verse “sophronismos” translates to strong diaphragm. God knew that the foundation of having a calm, sound mind was breathing! God gave us power, love, and an ability to breathe deeply.

So, as you remember the truth about God, examine yourself, target your anxiety, and breathe in deeply the truths of God, and you will be able to be filled with God’s peace. Now that is something we need to pass around a little more.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

Article written by Brandon Jones, MAPC, TAD, LAC
Child & Family Therapist, Christian Family Care