When you hear the word “contagious,” you’re likely to think of infections and other illnesses. At its most common definition, contagious does refer to the physical contraction of diseases. However, harmful organisms and infections aren’t the only things that are contagious. In fact, it’s not even limited to physical attributes. There are many facets of daily attitudes and lifestyles that can be just as contagious as an illness. Consider the following things you didn’t know were contagious, and learn how you can protect yourself for a happier, healthier, better quality of life.
1. Your Weight
A larger body mass can be attributed to numerous underlying health problems. The most common issue in Americans is too little exercise and too many calories. Surprisingly, simply being around people who are overweight may increase your risk for having excess body weight. In fact, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, your risk is even greater if at least one of your parents is overweight. There is a possible genetic link, but the causes can also be environmental. Furthermore, if many of your friends are overweight, your chances for being overweight may be greater because of some of the activities you share. This can include watching television, drinking and eating fatty foods. On the flipside, a healthy lifestyle that promotes a lean body mass is also contagious. Make an effort as a family or within your group of friends to adopt healthy habits so you can all maintain a healthy weight together.
2. Eating Disorders
An eating disorder is often classified as a mental disorder because of the strong influence the brain has on body image and eating habits. However, such factors can actually create a contagious factor in eating disorders. According to the Washington Center for Eating Disorders and Adolescent Obesity, these are particularly contagious within groups of adolescents and young adults, such as in sororities and sports teams. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to “fit in” within this age group, which explains why certain groups experience widespread restrictions, bingeing and purging.
Yawning was previously widely regarded as a signal of tiredness. The question lies in the fact that yawns themselves seem to be contagious. Psychology Today reports that when you see someone yawn, you’re more likely to mimic the behavior. You may even produce this same effect when you read the word “yawn.” The exact causes of contagious yawns are not widely understood. While once thought to be attributed to empathy, scientists are now investigating whether certain genetic factors can make certain people more predisposed to contagious yawning.
Yawns aren’t the only physical reactions that are contagious. Prevention magazine explains that seeing someone scratch itchy skin causes the brain to mimic the behavior. Oftentimes, the contagious behavior is so unconscious that you may not even really have an itch. This is usually harmless, unless you have skin conditions that can worsen with scratching. If you don’t want to fall prey to contagious itches, your best bet is to look the other way to avoid the temptation.
5. Likes & Dislikes
There may be a more scientific explanation for shared likes and dislikes. Prevention magazine reports that people are more likely to be drawn to certain items and activities if someone else likes them. On the flipside, if someone voices their opinion over a disliked item, you’re more likely to be receptive to these feelings and end up disliking it, too. While not necessarily harmful, contagious likes and dislikes can interfere with individual expression. It’s difficult not to cave into this kind of peer pressure, but keeping a strong hold on your own preferences will make you happier in the long-run.
6. Anxiety & Stress
When someone else is in a bad mood, you may pass it off as an individual problem. However, research shows that anxiety and stress can in fact be contagious. Prevention magazine reports that witnessing stress actually increases your own stress hormones. Not only does this apply to friends and family, but some of the stressful things you see on television may even impact your anxiety levels. Furthermore, research conducted by the University of California San Francisco shows that stress is highly contagious within parent-child relationships, as well as between romantic partners. Your best course of action is to make a strong mental effort to not let stress affect your own mood.
Socializing, at its core, is anything but lonely. If you surround yourself with a group of other lonely people, you may inadvertently give off lonely vibes to each other and feel worse. The problem is more prevalent on social media websites, where many people use the Internet as an escape from loneliness, according to Prevention magazine. The best way to prevent technology driven loneliness is by unplugging and getting out of the house. You’ll find that even going to the library decreases your feelings of loneliness because you’re surrounded by other people.
8. Smiles & Positivity
There may really be something behind the old saying that happiness is contagious. Just as being around anxious and lonely people can make you develop such feelings, surrounding yourself with positive people is more likely to make you happy.
In order to achieve physical, mental and emotional health, it’s important to focus on your own behaviors. This can be challenging given the contagious behaviors and lifestyles prevalent in the American culture. The key is to try to surround yourself with the best habits possible to reduce your chances of contracting ones that can interfere with your quality of life.