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October 2, 2011 / Man in the Mirror

Don’t Pass It On: How to Stop Stress in Its Tracks

As soon as you get stressed, you see the world through stressful eyes–and you’re at risk of passing your stress on to others.

You might do this in flagrant ways — shouting, blaming or road-raging — or you might do it in more subtle ways — sending a nasty look, using a brittle tone of voice, not giving someone the benefit of the doubt. You might treat others as if they were “in your way.” Or you might be impatient with people—just because they happen to be younger or older or slower or more feeble or more ignorant or less important than you are.

And then, because of your actions, these people have a stressful experience, and are liable to pass their stress on to others. In other words, stress has a domino effect. Your stress becomes someone else’s stress, and this becomes someone else’s stress.

So, no matter what caused your stress, when you pass your stress on to others, you have become an agent of what I call stresscalation.

More Than a Health Issue

To me, stresscalation is not just a health issue; it’s an ethical issue. I wonder how we can talk seriously about stopping wars in distant countries, or having saner political discussions, or reducing health care costs, when we ourselves are passing our stress on to others right around us?

When we pass stress on to others, we violate the Golden Rule. We dump onto others what was just dumped onto us.

That’s why I believe that stopping the stresscalation could be considered an ethical imperative. Stresscalation makes the world a more fearful, angry or jumpy place. But could we make a decision not to pass our stress onto others?  Could we stop the stresscalation?

Join me in trying to stop the stresscalation. All you have to do is take this pledge: The stress stops here. Just pick one day this month, and on that day, make it your number one priority to not pass on your stress to others.

How to Stop the Stress Domino Effect

  1. Hit the brakes. First, as soon as you notice that you’re stressed, make sure that becomes the issue. Instead of thinking about what “caused” your stress, do something to reduce your stress immediately, so you don’t pass it on. You can try one of the “instant” stress reduction techniques I suggested in my last article. Or do anything that works for you—as long as it doesn’t make the stress worse for someone else.
  2. Let people know. At the very least, just acknowledge to the people around you that you are stressed. Put your hand up and say, “I’m stressed.”  Because if you acknowledge your stress honestly, the people around you will have an easier time protecting themselves from it. In other words, when you own your stress as yours, other people are less likely to absorb it as theirs.
  3. Take the pledge. By accepting this challenge, you will help all the people you love and all the people you work with. You will also help all the strangers you happen to bump into (or, rather, don’t bump into, because now that you’re less stressed, you can see where you are going). And because this has a ripple effect, you will also help the whole world.

Remember, it really doesn’t matter where the stress comes from, or whose fault it is. Once you are stressed, in that moment, it becomes your responsibility. You are holding the hot potato. And what you do with it is up to you.

Martin Boroson is the author of “One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go” and the creator of OMM365, an e-training course that takes a gradual approach to meditation training, one minute a day for a year. For a quick intro to One-Moment Meditation, see his animated short film, “How to Meditate in a Moment” at


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