The mindful art of taking the weather with you…
Living with a sometimes angsty 17-year-old daughter provides me with an endless supply of life lessons. The lesson I have been learning lately is about emotional contagion.
Our daughter is ‘not a morning person’ but high school life demands early morning starts and the study demands ensure lack of sleep. For our household, most mornings are welcomed with what I call the ‘the grump face’ and few, if any, words, unless to whinge about something- anything really. No degree of reframing on my part can penetrate the wall of “half empty-ness” that pervades her every thought and emotion. My husband is impressive as he remains totally immune to the emotional weather and carries on with his upbeat optimistic ‘morning person’ approach to the day. Me? I want to bury my head under the pillow and avoid all contact with said teenager because I am far from immune! I very quickly assimilate her emotion and simultaneously enter into ‘fixit’ mode and attempt to ‘solve’ her problem and send her off to her school day engaged and ready to change the world. Yet I know this is a foolhardy response because almost the minute she leaves the house and joins her tribe, all angst will evaporate, and the fine weather will prevail. Me? I’m left feeling angsty and sad thinking she will have a bad day. And there is the error in my thinking- it’s me who will have the bad day if I don’t take my own weather with me! Who knows- if my work colleagues are not immune then they too will become infected and all on my shift will soon be suffering an angst epidemic!
I’ve been reading an interesting blog by Michael Miller of 6secods.org. He writes that there is good evidence for emotional contagion. According to Miller, in order to understand emotional contagion, we need to understand the purpose of emotions. Miller contends that emotions are a necessary part of our survival skills. They allow us to focus our attention and enhance our motivation to act. As humans we are highly attuned to the emotional signals around us and they serve to provide information with regards to our own interior state of being, along with information about our relationships with others. As such, we are inexplicably entwined with others at an emotional level. Miller goes so far as to suggest “just as herd animals would benefit from rapidly passing messages about risk and reward, emotional contagion seems to be adaptive for humans to function in groups”. This sensitivity to others’ emotions, the idea that one can “catch” another’s emotions, not unlike catching a droplet spread virus, is what is referred to as emotional contagion.
The science relating to emotional contagion is interesting. Sy, Côté, & Saavedra (2005), in a study entitled The Contagious Leader, found that the positive mood of the leader, not surprisingly, had a positive influence on group members at both the individual and collective level. The opposite was true for leader negative mood. Interestingly, the team lead by a “positive mood” leader was found to perform better with regards to group coordination and effort. Does this not sound like something we should consider in leading our emergency departments and in the care of children? If, indeed, our mood can influence group coordination and effort, then our resuscitations stand to gain much from a positive mood of the leader.
Obviously to be upbeat and positive ALL the time is a huge and some would say unachievable challenge. Instead, here is my challenge to you –– how about aiming to become more mindful of your mood and the impact on those around you. Can you step up to the challenge of Crowded House (for those of you old enough to resonate with their music) - Are you taking the weather with you? Maybe develop a mantra or ensure you have “Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you” as your ear worm! Remember, your mood may have the potential to impact the outcome for your staff, your colleagues and your patients!
Sy, Côté, & Saavedra (2005) The contagious leader: impact of the leader's mood on the mood of group members, group affective tone, and group processes. J Appl Psychol. 2005 Mar;90(2):295-305
Dr Faye Jordan
Dr Danielle Scarfe