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The Reagan-era notion of supply-side economic policies hypothesized that lowering the tax burdens on the upper end of the economic spectrum would allow for that money to “trickle down” into the rest of the economy, boosting income and opportunity for all. Basically imagine rain water hitting the plant at the top, above the soil, and then the water eventually seeping through the soil to hydrate the rest of the plant and keep the roots below the surface healthy and thriving, and thus able to support the whole plant. A great concept, but one that is very obviously not the case in our capitalistic economy. We offer a different thought exercise: what’s the “trickle down” theory of stress?

Stress is able to be passed on to those around us, eventually trickling down to those who are affected by our commitments and responsibilities. Humans are naturally extremely sensitive and empathetic beings. So when those around us who we hold close exhibit signs of stress, our bodies naturally respond and emulate, thus producing stress in ourselves. 

Stress is contagious. This has been shown in studies concerned with babies catching it from their mothers, as well as adults being exposed to those exhibiting signs of stress. Another interesting study found that the human brain can even respond to airborne chemicals released by other stressed individuals. So how can we take measures to combat this contagiousness of stress? 

It really all comes down to negating the potential for stress to trickle down at all. There is no way to control all sources of stress in our lives. Coming to terms with this actually helps relieve stress; let go and stop worrying about what we cannot control. Modern obsessions with instant gratification, anti-uncertainty, and individuality (while all able to lower stress levels), lead to higher levels of stress when things are out of our control. We even made a shirt about it.  

Focusing on what is in our control, what we are capable of doing, saying, etc., is key to combating stress and preventing “trickle down stress.” Own your own crap so that no one else has to.

Here are a few tips to prevent “trickle down stress”:

  1. You have to slow down to go fast
  2. Make a plan (but let adaptation be part of it)
  3. Brush off the things that are out of your control 
  4. Spend time helping others, and ask for help when you need it, too
  5. Do what you’re good at and don’t do what you’re not good at

“Trickle down” theory may not work for economics, but it’s definitely applicable to stress. Simply Psych supports mental health clinicians as they run their small businesses (super stressful!)  We’re experts at managing the unique intersection that is mental health practice so if you see yourself in the missive above, drop us a note:    

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