Three Ways to Counter Observer Effects of Hate and Disconnection


In my last post, I talked about the toll hate and disconnection have on victims and perpetrators. Today, I’d like to take a quick look at how simply observing these events doesn’t protect us from the emotional, physical and mental consequences.


Stress has a biological purpose in our lives, and we will never escape it. However, too many of us live with too much negative stress in our lives. In fact, researchers have found that our brains have a “negativity bias” – it is more attuned, and reacts more strongly, to unpleasant news. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. However, reacting to the threats in our modern world - many of which are invented and not real - can leave us exhausted, stressed, and irritable.


The sad part is that some people - politicians, advertisers, etc - have learned to use this negativity bias against us. They feed us with fears of “strangers” and “what if” based on nothing more than images in our mind. Many of our fears are, in fact, paper tigers.


Real or not, our brains and bodies still react to these events the same way. We go into fight or flight. Cortisol, adrenaline and a flood of other harmful hormones and chemicals are released into our system. When we can’t release the stress, the effects of it live on in our bodies.


Simply watching an event triggers neurons in our brain to enact it. Mirror neurons are a special class of brain cells that fire when not only when we do something, but also when we observe someone else doing the same thing. Have you ever flinched when you saw someone else stub their toe? That’s the mirror neurons in action, reminding you of the pain you felt when you stubbed your toe. It’s these same mirror neurons that fire when we witness traumatic events - like someone being beaten or abused. The neurons fire, and our brain reacts as if we’re being beaten. The result is not only empathy for the other person, but added stress on our body as well.


So, what can you do about it?


  1. First, quit complaining about what’s going on. All the complaining we do about the current situation only serves to embed the negativity further into our brains. When we focus on something and replay it over and over in our heads, the neurons involved create tighter connections, which only makes it easier to continue focusing on the negativity. Our internal situation goes from bad to worse.

  2. Second, pay attention to your emotions. Negative emotions have a way of clouding our judgment. Rather than reacting harshly, disengage. Step back and take a deep breath before responding… or walking away.

  3. Finally, take a break. This may seem obvious, but how many of us actually do it? Turn off the news for a day. Log out of your social media accounts for a week. Use your free time to do something that recharges your inner battery.


I’m curious how you’re feeling about the negative environment we’re living in? What are you doing to overcome the stress? Are you doing anything to help others? Join me in the “How to Survive (and Thrive!) in Turbulent Times” discussion group on LinkedIn to discuss this topic and your solutions.

©daiOne, LLC/Susan McCuistion, 2018


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