Is Your Stress Contagious?

Is Your Stress Contagious?

Have you ever walked into a room and felt the tension? 

You know that thick, palatable, tension you could cut with a knife, even though no one is fighting, arguing, or saying anything at all?

Or the opposite.

Have you ever been around someone who has an infectious smile? You don’t even know what is so funny, but you can’t help laughing too?

How Does this Happen?

Whenever we think thoughts, we create neuropeptides, chemicals that are the physical product of our thoughts. These chemicals travel from cell to cell letting each one know what the brain is thinking.

Thinking really does change our own physiology, our environment, and perhaps the physiology of others too.

If you have been with us long, you know Dr. Olpin’s mantra by now, “Stress begins with our thoughts.” Now many researchers are homing in on how damaging and contagious those stress thoughts can be.


“Brain changes associated with stress underpin many mental illnesses including PTSD, anxiety disorders, and depression,” says Bains, professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology .1

Bains has also discovered that stress thoughts are not just dangerous to those that think them, but also to others around them.

In a study on mice, Bain found that when one mouse was exposed to mild stress and then returned to its partner, both the stressed mouse and the naïve partner’s brains were altered the same way.

In other words, the unstressed mouse’s brain changed as if it had been stressed too.

Does this happen in humans too?

Bain commented, “We readily communicate our stress to others, sometimes without even knowing it.”

Yes, even without meaning to, our stress is probably being passed on to those around us, family members, co-workers, the clerk at the grocery store.

But don’t feel guilty just yet.

Instead, let’s be grateful to now understand how contagious stress can be, and use this as motivation to get own stress under control, to make us feel good, and make the world a better place as well!

Let’s make getting rid of stress as easy as possible.

Others have done it – you can too!

Together, we can do this!


3 Simple Ways to Relax Before Your Test

3 Simple Ways to Relax Before Your Test

Article Highlights

  • Taking tests are some of the most stressful events of the college experience
  • Why worrying about your test just makes it worse
  • Ways to relax and take the best test of your life

Taking tests, exams, and quizzes are some of the most stressful events of a person’s college experience.

Most of the time, tests and exams carry more weight toward the successful outcome of graduating from college than anything else.

As a result of this importance, we frequently find ourselves getting stressed about quizzes, tests, and exams. We perceive it as an enormous threat the impact of possibly doing poorly.

Why We Perceive Tests as a Threat

Remember that the definition of stress is the body’s response to a perceived threat. The consequences of doing poorly are very threatening–at least we think they are.

Remember also, that when we feel threatened, the body’s fight-or-flight response turns on to help us escape from or fight something that could cause physical harm. The only problem is there is nothing that will physically harm us if we don’t do well on the test. But your body doesn’t realize you aren’t in physical danger, so it responds as if you were.

“The dumbest thing we can do, if we want to do well on a test, is to worry about it. Alternatively, the best thing we can do in order to do well on the test is to be as relaxed as possible.”

When we perceived stress, our higher order thinking tends to shut down. In other words, our ability to remember, process, and analyze important cognitive information is dramatically reduced when the stress response is activated. As stress goes up, the cognitive ability goes down.

Alternatively, the best thing we can do in order to do well on the test is to be as relaxed as possible. That’s easier said than done, you might be thinking. So here are some steps that will help you do better on your tests, and get yourself into a more relaxed state as you prepare for and take tests.

How to Prepare

First, it is vital that you prepare. This may seem obvious, but preparing means more than cramming as much information into your brain the night before the test or right before you go where you’re taking the test. Research on test preparation suggests that we are able to remember more if we study things on several occasions and then sleep on it.


Speaking of sleep, it is important that we feel rested when we take tests. When we are drowsy, our ability to recall important information decreases. It’s better to study earlier in the evening and then get a good night’s sleep than staying up all night trying to cram more information into your brain.

Exercise Your Body and Eat Well

Along with sleep, our minds work best when we follow the guidance that should be common knowledge to most of us: as frequently as possible, eat well and get an appropriate amount of regular exercise. There is some evidence suggesting that protein is brain food. In other words, if you want to maintain clear thinking, prior to the exam, eat a meal or two that is primarily protein. Most importantly, do not go into a test having recently eaten a really large meal.

Do Something Relaxing

One of the most valuable activities you can do just prior to taking a test is to do something that profoundly takes you out of the stress response. Fortunately, the activities and tools found on this website are specifically designed to do just that. Try this breathing exercise on the day of the test to reduce anxiety and nervousness.

When the mind and body are deeply relaxed, that is, not in the fight or flight mode, the mind moves into an optimum state for clear thinking. A deeply relaxed mind is the kind of one you want to have prior to and during the test.

Be Mindful

Finally, while you take the test, stay mindful. Keep your mind focused entirely on the question at hand. If the answer doesn’t immediately come to you, stay focused on the here and now. Don’t let your mind bring up thoughts of what might happen because you don’t know the answer–The bad outcomes. This will activate the stress response again.

Instead, when you don’t directly know the answer, skip to the next question. Later on, come back to the question and watch for the answer to pop into your mind. If it doesn’t this time, again, let go, and move on to other questions on the test.

If you come back to the question and still have no idea, give it your best guess. It is really important that you don’t let your mind bring up thoughts of bad outcomes–don’t bring up worst case scenarios of how bad things will be because you might miss a few points.

Keep Perspective

Missing answers to a question won’t result in devastating consequences. Things usually work out. Trust that this is how it will be for you, especially consequences, where you will encounter physical harm. Consider how many tests you have taken, and how many tests others have taken. And realize things usually turn out okay for us. So relax and enjoy your opportunity to work your mental muscles.

The Best Medication for a Stress Headache? Meditation

The Best Medication for a Stress Headache? Meditation

Article Highlights

  • Simple meditation practice improves pain tolerance
  • Meditation produces deeper brain wave activity
  • It can help you fall asleep faster, reduce anxiety, and reverse the stress response

In a study from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, people who meditated for just 20 minutes a day saw their pain tolerance rise in 4 days.

Volunteers learned an ultra-easy technique called mindfulness meditation that teaches you to focus on your breath and stay in the present moment, not worry about what’s ahead.


A Higher Pain Tolerance

Researchers tested the volunteers’ pain thresholds with mild electric shocks and found that shocks considered “high pain” before meditating felt mild afterward. Volunteers who didn’t learn the meditation had unchanged responses to the shocks. (No, we can’t imagine why anyone volunteered for this, though we’re grateful that they did.)1

This is great news because about 30%-80% of the adult U.S. population suffer from an occasional tension, or stress headache. Approximately 3% of those suffer from chronic daily tension headaches. Women are twice as likely to suffer from tension-type headaches as men. 2

Many of these poor sufferers don’t realize that medications don’t cure headaches and that, over time, pain-relievers and other medications may lose their effectiveness. In addition, all medications have side effects. The truth is that pain medications are not a substitute for recognizing and dealing with the stressors that may be causing your headaches.

Why Meditation Works

This is where the power of the mind comes in. Meditation works by slowing brain wave activity from beta brainwave activity, (when we are awake and alert and stressed), to the deeper levels of theta and delta brainwaves that are experienced when we are in our deepest sleep.3

Researchers have found that people who regularly meditate are able to reach these deeper levels of brainwave activity and enjoy deeper levels of rest after only 5 minutes of meditation compared to one to two hours for people falling asleep! That is powerful because it is when your body is resting deeply, it repairs itself, restores itself, and the immune system works most efficiently.3

Mindfulness meditation doesn’t work because your pain is “all in your head.” It works because when the pain won’t quit, stress and worry kick in, boosting levels of stress hormones. This tricks your brain into thinking the pain is actually worse than it is.1 In other words, many people make their pain worse by stressing about it. Meditation helps to reverse the stress response.

Reduce Anxiety

Meditation also seems to be one heck of a great anxiety remedy. England’s University of Manchester found that meditation also eased pain by helping the brain stop anticipating it – another stress trigger. Less stress and less pain can also mean better sleep, more motivation to exercise, and even less depression, all of which help us to relax more and hurt less.1

Mindfulness meditation and other relaxation therapies like progressive relaxation and guided imagery are easy to learn. You don’t have to sit on the floor with your legs crossed, or go on any expensive retreats. Many people find it extremely easy to play a meditation download and de-stress for a few minutes, letting their mind relax and their body heal itself. The results may lead to fewer and a far less painful stress headache. For more information on learning this pain reducing, body healing technique check out the some of the sources listed below.

Helpful Resources:
Relaxation Techniques for Anxiety – Learning to Meditate
The World is NOT a Stressful Place

1. Use Your Brain to Relieve Pain
2. Tension Headache
3. The World is not a Stressful Place, Olpin, p. 138-141


Why Bright Lights and Dark Nights are Essential for Sleep

Why Bright Lights and Dark Nights are Essential for Sleep

Article Highlights

  • Hormones, including melatonin, regulate our sleep/wake cycle
  • The best ways to keep it dark for sleeping
  • Getting natural light during the day helps regulate your circadian rhythm

The human wake and sleep cycle is naturally regulated by the bright light of day and the darkness of night.

When the light of day first hits the retina and stimulates a nerve pathway to the hypothalamus, it sets off a chain reaction that sends messages to other parts of the brain that help us feel more awake, like raising body temperature and increasing hormones like cortisol.1


The body also decreases the production of other hormones like melatonin which is both a hormone and an antioxidant.2

Melatonin, sometimes referred to as the “Dracula of Hormones,” is made by your pineal gland which is inactive during the day, but is turned on when the sun goes down and darkness occurs.1 Melatonin production helps us to fall asleep and to stay asleep during the night.

A Letter to a Stressed out LDS Missionary

A Letter to a Stressed out LDS Missionary

Article Highlights

  • Missionary stress is very common
  • Ways to get out of a constant state of stress
  • Reduce symptoms with natural remedies, not pharmaceuticals

I wrote this letter recently to a student who told me he was struggling with stress while serving as a missionary for the LDS church.

This was my reply:


It’s interesting that you wanted to know about missionary stress. I’m actually writing a book/workbook for a mission in Michigan who wanted some help for their missionaries. And I also have a son who is in Santiago, Chile, on his mission, and is experiencing some stressful times. The reason I say this is just to let you know that what you’re going through isn’t unusual, nor is it unique to you.  (more…)