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Stress Alleviated When Shared, Study Suggests

Last updated June 3, 2016

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

What exactly does stress do to your body, and what are the long-term effects?

Frustrated about work? Terrified of delivering a speech? A new study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, suggests that sharing your feelings with someone emotionally similar to the same situation reduces stress, or cortisol, levels more than sharing with someone who is not.

Study leader Sarah Townsend, assistant professor of management and organization at the University Of Southern California Marshall School Of Business in Los Angeles, believes their results could be helpful for people experiencing stress at work. “For instance, when you're putting together an important presentation or working on a high-stakes project, these are situations that can be threatening and you may experience heightened stress,” she says, “But talking with a colleague who shares your emotional state can help decrease this stress.”

Townsend and her colleagues paired 52 female undergraduates and asked them to give a speech, while being recorded on video. Before delivering their speeches, the participants were placed in pairs and encouraged to discuss with each other how they felt about the situation. Each participant's level of the stress-related hormone cortisol were measured before, during, and after their speeches.

The authors write that the results “show that sharing a threatening situation with a person who is in a similar emotional state, in terms of her overall emotional profile, buffers individuals from experiencing the heightened levels of stress that typically accompany threat.”

Professor Townsend believes that this work can be extended to investigate how developing emotional similarity might help people from different cultural backgrounds, who have to work together. She also urges professionals to think more about the importance of similarity.

The researchers said that employers who offer systems that support workers' well-being outside the workplace might acquire benefits during working hours.

Additional Resource:

 Townsend, S. S., Kim, H. S., & Mesquita, B. (2013). Are you feeling what I’m feeling? Emotional similarity buffers stress. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1948550613511499.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 3, 2016
Last updated: June 3, 2016