Ways to Stop Toxic People From Ruining Your Mood

May 6th 2016

'Misery loves company' isn't just an old saying. Psychologists refer to the way moods spread between people as "emotional contagion," Scientific American reports. Emotions are particularly contagious between people who are often around one another.

While it's sometimes necessary to end a toxic relationship, things get a little trickier when the person raining on your parade is a coworker or relative.

If you're stuck with a toxic person in your life, here are five ways to keep them from ruining your mood.

1. Detach yourself.

Particularly empathetic people are especially prone to picking up a sour mood in the air, Lifehacker noted.

Daniel Rempala, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii, published a paper in 2013 on whether it was possible to avoid being affected by negative emotions.

Repala staged a follow-up research project which showed three groups of people videos of others talking about extremely sad and extremely happy memories, Science of Us reported. The first group of subjects was told to imagine they were the therapist of the person in the video, while the second group was told to imagine they were the person, and the third was instructed to react as a detached, "outside observer."

Afterwards, study participants rated their own emotional states. “Much to my surprise, the one that ended up being the most effective in reducing the contagion and the most effective in aiding the interaction was dissociation,” Rempala said. He also found that sadness was more contagious than happiness.

“Picture yourself, the room, the TV, and the person on the TV screen as though you were an outside observer,” the researcher instructed the third group of subjects, according to Science of Us.

This advice can also apply to your toxic boss or sibling — try to detach yourself from the situation, and observe their behavior without taking it personally.

2. Kill them with kindness.

Instead of fighting fire with fire, respond to a foul mood with calm and positivity.

"Try to infuse as many positive comments into conversations and meetings as possible," psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter advised on Psychology Today.

Sigal Barsade, a researcher on emotional contagion at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, told Science of Us that it can help to fight negativity with a serene mood — it might even rub off on your dour counterpart.

"[Y]ou can try to talk calmly, and smile gently, and maybe you’ll change their mood,” she said.

3. Pay attention to something else.

When a bad mood is in the air, don't give it too much attention or emotional space.

“Basically, what my research has shown is that emotional contagion relies a lot on attention,” Barsade told Science of Us. “And we focus more on the people who are negative. So one thing you can do is to avoid even looking at them.”

4. Practice self-care.

A bad mood may also will effect you more if you aren't well rested, or feeling up to par.

"Much like a common cold or any other illness, if you're tired, weak, or hungry, you'll be even more vulnerable to catching someone's negative emotions," Bourg Carter wrote. "Make sure you get enough sleep. Eat well, exercise, and make sure you get some sunshine."

5. Meditate.

It might sound a tad corny, but meditating in the morning can actually help you fight off bad vibes during the day. There are many different kinds of meditation, which have different goals and benefits.

Mindfulness meditation focuses on being fully in the present moment, and practicing boundless acceptance of experiences, people, and situations.

"Mindfulness — paying precise, non-judgmental attention to the details of our experience as it arises and subsides — doesn't reject anything," Psychology Today reported. "Instead of struggling to get away from experiences we find difficult, we practice being able to be with them.

Another form of meditation that can help combat emotional contagion is the loving-kindness meditation, or metta bhavana. This meditation focuses on cultivating unconditional love for all beings without expecting anything in return. Unconditional acceptance and compassion can both elevate your own mood and make you less fixated on someone else's. You can learn how to do this meditative practice and others on The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society's website.

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