Gordon Ramsay Yelling

In this article, you'll learn how to minimize secondhand stress while still supporting your teammates and entrepreneur.

I don't know about you, but I've always been the person people confide in at work. Maybe a teammate is ranting about a project or task, or perhaps my entrepreneur calls me stressing out about something else.

I actually don't mind this role, as I get to hear other people's perspectives and stressors at work; more often than not, we can come up with some actionable solutions to improve the situation in the same call.

Not everyone shares my openness to coworker venting. In fact, researchers have confirmed the existence of empathetic stress. When we hear someone getting stressed out, and that person has a close kinship with us, our bodies produce cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. So just listening to someone we like complain, vent or undergo stress is enough for us to physiologically get stressed out.

After doing some research, I discovered that experts recommend using some of the same coping mechanisms as I subconsciously do. Here they are: [rebel]

Shift your mindset

Disassociate yourself from immediate, knee-jerk reactions and strong emotions based on your teammate's tone of voice. Instead, listen to your teammate to identify the core issues at play.

Resolve concerns and propose solutions.

After listening to the core issues, think about solutions (within your power, of course) that would alleviate the stressors. Margarita Tartakovsky, M.D., recommends thinking through the following framework of questions to uncover new options:

  • What's worked in the past?
  • What would [someone you respect] do?
  • What would an objective person do in this situation?

Take care of yourself.

Empathetic stress is a real danger, so mitigate it with stress-relieving activities. Make the time to exercise, meditate and get plenty of sleep at night. Exhibit gratefulness. After particularly stressful conversations or workdays, reconnect with what you love about your work.

Set boundaries for energy vampires.

On the finale of the Oprah Winfrey show, Oprah discussed a sign she had hanging up in her makeup room. It said, simply, "Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space."

But you don't need a sign to proactively manage your exposure to energy vampires. A simple, "Excuse me, I've got to get back to this project," is often enough to keep them at bay.

Take a break.

If you've just listened to a coworker venting, it's time to take a short break to recenter. Get up from your desk (or wherever this conversation took place) and take a short walk. Ideally, get some fresh air. Chances are good that your emotional energy took a big hit, and you need some time to refuel.


Our job exposes us to empathetic stress all day long. By learning how to react in the most productive fashion, we inhibit this stress but still are available to support our team emotionally.

In practice: Identify the last time your entrepreneur was stressed out and ranted to you. Write down how you would resolve concerns, present new options and react/act afterward to recharge.

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