You walk into your office in a great mood, only to find a coworker a nearby cubicle who’s visibly upset. All of a sudden you start to feel your mood take a nosedive. Is it all in your head? Not according to new research that argues that mood — both good and bad — is contagious.
Inspired by research that found that people’s emotions are influenced by what their friends are posting on social media — as well as studies that find that other conditions, like smoking and obesity, are contagious among groups of friends — researchers led by a team from England looked at longitudinal data gathered at American schools that ranked teens’ level of depression on a scale of 0 to 54, to see if there were any patterns in negative or positive moods in groups of friends.
They found that “having more friends with worse mood” — including a more negative ranking on criteria including loss of interest, decreased appetite, reduced concentration, sadness, and feelings of helplessness, tiredness and worthlessness — is linked to teens having a higher chance of falling into a “worse mood.” The same was true for those with friends in good moods, who reported being in a better mood as well.
“For US adolescents, the greater number of worse mood friends they have the more likely they are to get worse in mood and the less likely they are to get better, and vice versa for better mood friends,” researchers, led by the university of Warwick in England, wrote.
Notably, while some of the contagious bad mood symptoms are consistent with depressive symptoms, researchers found that merely spending time with a depressed friend can’t drag you down into depression — or, in other words, official clinical depression is not contagious.
“[B]oth better and worse moods are contagious, but while better mood is contagious enough to push individuals over the boundary from depressed to not depressed, worse mood is not contagious enough to push individuals into becoming depressed,” researchers wrote.
Here are some tips on what you can do to avoid feeling worse just because things aren’t going well for your coworker:
Try to figure out where they’re coming from
In Forbes, author Lisa Quast writes about how she approached a coworker after he had an angry outburst over a business flight cancellation at the airport and continued to be under a dark cloud once they finally reached their destination. She ended up talking to him later that day and found out more about what he was going through. The next day, the formerly sullen co-worker apologized to his colleagues and even a flight attendant, “taking ownership of his bad mood and for the negative effect his mood had on others.”
“Whenever someone is negative or angry, don’t match his or her mood. Realize that there might be underlying reasons for their behavior, and use compassion during your communication,” Quast writes.
Don’t fight fire with fire
Don’t fly off the handle — you’ll just end up looking bad.
“Don’t engage every time someone irritates you. Not only will you be seen as argumentative, you’ll be welcoming the toxicity into your own life,” Jacqueline Whitmore, Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, writes in Entrepreneur.
“Rather than argue, try to ignore any negative comments. Control your emotions and prevent the situation from escalating. Walk away from unnecessary conflict. You’ll be respected for taking the high road.”
Give them the space they need
Physical distance can be a useful tool.
American University health educator and author Abby Wolfe writes about how years ago, if her former boss was in a bad mood, she’d try to duck her.
But she realized over time that there were plenty of ways to deal with a cranky co-worker without bringing yourself down.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is give your co-worker “the time and space to work through it on [their] own or just let it take its course,” she writes in The Muse.
“So, don’t try to force him into conversation. Don’t try to cheer him up. Save any questions and updates you can for the next day. If there’s something pressing, keep it brief and to the point. And if possible, send an email about it instead. It may be easier for him (and less painful for you) to let him process it on his own rather than having to interact with anyone.”
Your coworker may be upset, but you don’t have to be.