How to Avoid “Catching” a Bad Mood
A recent University of Notre Dame study of 103 pairs of roommates found that negative thinking patterns can be passed from person to person, just like the flu. “Cognitive vulnerability”—the mindset that you’re at fault for stressful life events and unable to change them—is particularly catching, increasing the symptoms of depression in others even six months later.
So, barring the unlikely invention of a depression vaccine, how do we live with depressing people without becoming bummed out ourselves? Try these tips from the experts: Remember, you can only fix yourself. You can’t make someone stop being negative. You can, however, change your own moods and thoughts. “So choose to feel happy or neutral instead of negative,” says J. Kim Penberthy, a University of Virginia associate professor with the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences.
Practice compassion. It’s human nature to interpret negative comments as a personal attack. Instead, recognize them for what they are: a sign that someone is suffering. “Don’t take anything personally,” says Tobi Fishel, the director of psychological services at the Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health.
Practice nonattachment. To prevent yourself from reacting, try pretending that you’re watching a movie. Observe what’s going on with curiosity, but don’t engage. “If negative feelings come up, be mindful that they’ll pass,” Fishel says.
Limit exposure. If someone’s negativity is bringing you down, limit the time you spend with them. If you live with a depressing person, volunteer, join a club, go window-shopping, or take a walk—anything that gives you a reprieve. “If you can’t physically leave, you can take a minivacation in your own mind and imagine yourself somewhere wonderful until the conversation is over,” Penberthy says.
Know that happiness is contagious, too. If you want to feel peaceful, loving, and joyful, surround yourself with as many uplifting people and things as possible, Fishel says. “We are all energetic beings. We become what we eat, what we watch, the people we surround ourselves with.”
Tobi Fishel, Ph.D.
Director of Psychological Services
Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health