Social Allergies: Are You at Risk?

Strategies to help you stay calm in stressful situations with others

Newsflash, ladies: Turns out you really can be allergic to your mother-in-law—or any other special someone in your life whose bothersome behavior gives you more heartburn than your husband's famous fireworks chili.

Recent studies show "social allergens" are on the rise, and just like their biological counterparts such as pollen or poison ivy, these allergens can cause physical and psychological symptoms that become stronger over time.

Truth is, we all have one or more potent people in our lives who grate on our nerves. They interrupt often, smack gum during Bible study, bring their colds and sniffles instead of tasty refreshments to Neighborhood Watch meetings, and frequently leave the clean-up behind. More than just pet peeves, these so-called "adverse behaviors" repeated again and again could test the patience of Job on a rainy day, a phenomenon that social psychologist and communications professor Michael Cunningham calls social allergies.

According to Cunningham, repeated exposure to social allergens can cause emotional and physical breakouts due to stress. First encounters cause a mere qualm or two, but add repetition without relief and the irritation grows exponentially. In his landmark study, Cunningham and his research partners discovered social allergens and our increased sensitivity to them often occur in the settings where we spend the most time, whether it be at home, church, or office. So how do we protect ourselves? Here is some advice from the experts.

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May 25

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