Wellbeing Contagion© - TEDx Talk

Wellbeing Contagion©

TEDx Talk by Lana M Johnson

Click the image to start the TEDx talk.

Click the image to start the TEDx talk.

Have you ever known someone who made you feel bad?

I have. I worked with someone who gave me a huge knot in my stomach and a feeling of dread would wash over my body when I had to interact with her.

Cara wasn’t a bad person.  

But when she was overloaded, stressed, or unhappy, her words, her tone and her mannerisms had a way of infecting me with stress.

I thought it was just me. That I was the only one afflicted in this way.

I thought it was me, but it wasn’t just me. Cara had managed to infect others within the team and outside of the team in the same way.

What struck me so deeply, was how much power one person can have on other peoples’ wellbeing - derail their emotional state and making them even question their intellect


People “catch” feelings from each other

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Something strange happens when people get in groups. They “catch” feelings from others.

It’s called ‘emotional contagion’.

Have you ever felt the impact of other peoples’ emotions? Like I did with Cara?

When you come into contact with a stressed person, even a complete stranger, your stress hormones levels in your body rise. The closer you are to the person the stronger the effect.

It’s called secondary stress. As if our own stress at times isn’t enough.

I want to tell you two things you can do with emotional contagion.  

Redirect and immunise.

1.       First: Redirect them:

Start by listening to them with empathy. Make sure they feel heard because what they are feeling is real for them. They’re struggling.

Then redirect the conversation in a productive way. Ask them “How will you move forward from here?”.

It engages their brain to seek choices rather than stay stuck.

Direct them professional help if you at all suspect they need it.

2.       Second: Immunise yourself.

I had to create emotional boundaries and stop being led by Cara’s emotions.

When I was feeling most infected with her stress, I’d be sitting in a meeting with her while she was in the midst of a stress shit storm, and I’d be saying to myself “That’s her shit! She can keep it”.

What I’d recommend you do is acknowledge that it’s their stress. Its not for you and it won’t serve you.

In life, we want to let in the good stuff and filter out the bad.

Ask yourself: “What do I need to do to stay well?”

This puts you back in control and can reduce the amount of stress you experience.

If you are the stressed, negative person, please seek help early.

Own your contagion.

What emotions are you catching? Do you have a Cara in your life?

What emotions are you spreading? Are you a Cara?


The Cost of Today’s Lifestyles

You don’t need me to tell you that how we are living and working is:

·         stressing many of us out,

·         it is taking a toll on our wellbeing, and

·         it’s causing many preventable chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.  And mental health conditions are on the rise.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

 The World Health Organisation data shows that more than 2 in 3 people are suffering and dying from chronic noncommunicable diseases. Their research show that many of them are caused by our lifestyles and are preventable. And it is an upwards trend.

I don’t want that for you. I don’t want that for your loved ones.

I don’t want that for me. And I certainly don’t want that for my loved ones.

Who wants to be one of the healthy ones?


The Antidote

The fantastic news is that there is a powerful antidote to this illness that afflicting our loved ones.

You see while we can catch and spread the very things that are deteriorating our wellbeing, we can also infect others with wellbeing.

Just as stress and negative emotions are contagious, positive emotions are also contagious.

Enthusiasm and joy are catchy. It’s worth knowing that person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends.


Wellbeing is Contagious

wellebing contagion definition.PNG

You see, is it not just our emotions that are contagious.

Wellbeing is contagious.

Wellbeing contagion© is the spread of wellbeing ideas, attitudes, or behaviours in a group.

What a gift right?  What an opportunity!


Wellbeing Cultures

I bet you’ve experienced wellbeing contagion© in some way already.

Have you ever been part of a group at work, in sport or in the community:


1.       That allowed you see your value in the world (spiritual)

2.       Where you felt supported (social),

3.       Where you felt good about yourself (mental & emotional),

4.       That inspired you to be active and look after yourself (physical),

5.       That encouraged you to learn and grow (intellectual)

6.       Where there was harmony between work and life demands (balance)?

A culture where you were infected with wellbeing?

What is gorgeous about wellbeing, is that:

•       It’s dynamic so it can change

•       A boost in one aspect of your wellbeing, can have an immediate and significant flow on affect to others.


Wellbeing Contagion© at its Best

Bushy Park, UK

Bushy Park, UK

The best example of this that I know of wellbeing contagion© is called parkrun. Do we have any parkrunners here today?

This story began in 2004 when a small group of friends decided to begin a weekly 5km timed run in Bushy Park in the UK.

Within just two years that weekly event at Bushy Park was attracting over 350 runners. You see people, began inviting other people. Exercise is socially contagious


The infection spread from there, like wildfire around the world. 

They went on to add new events in different locations in the UK and then internationally.

Today, over 3.5 million people around the world are running or walking parkrun.

All started from a very small group of people who saw a good thing and got behind it.

While parkrun has boosted millions of people’s physical wellbeing,

 I can tell you from personal experience, the impact of parkrun reaches far beyond just physical wellbeing. You see it brings community together and by doing so, it feeds your social wellbeing and your mental wellbeing.

It is far easier to be well and make well choices when you surround yourself with happy, active people! Because you can’t help but be happy and active too!


How Can you Infect Others with Wellbeing?

So my question to you is, how can you infect the people around you with wellbeing?

Making positive choices for all aspects of our wellbeing and sustain them over time is the antidote to the lifestyle diseases that I know are affecting people in your family and workplace.  If you are enjoying good health it may seem really simple to you. 

To others it is incredibly hard. That stats tell us that.

I’m here not because I am perfect. I’m here because I know the struggle is real!

Truth be told, my motive is selfish - I need all the help and support I can get and I know my chances of remaining healthy are far greater if I don’t go it alone.  Every time I get re-infected with healthy choices by my family and friends it gets easier.

Now, you don’t have to start a global movement to make a difference. Jump on a bandwagon that already exists. You don’t have to be able to run 5 km to be part of parkrun. You can walk it!

What other small shifts or small improvements can you make to help others and help yourself. Think of something and start doing it and there is a really good chance that in some way, other people will catch on.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock

Images courtesy of Shutterstock

Small shifts have a big impact.

Small shifts of many people can have a generational impact.

Imagine: What would our world be like if we could elevate the wellbeing of humanity, even just a little?

It starts with you. Don’t wait for anyone else. I invite you to be the centre of another site of wellbeing infection.


3 steps to Wellbeing Contagion

I am going to leave you with 3 steps you can take to infect others with wellbeing.

Wellbeing Contagion v1.0b live work play.jpg

Step 1. Diagnose

When we notice our current of wellbeing and what’s impacting it we can make a shift. Like I did with Cara.

Take a moment now to pause and notice your current state of wellbeing?

What is the state of wellbeing in the groups you live, work and play in? Amongst your family, colleagues and friends? Start a conversation with them about it.

Our wellbeing is dynamic. It can shift, sometimes rapidly or sometimes slowly.

Wellbeing Contagion v1.0b diagnose.jpg

Notice, what aspects are in the positive, which are neutral? Which aspects are in the negative? Perhaps neglected or suffering to some extent.

Diagnose regularly.

We can change what we pay attention to.


Step 2. Treat it

With Cara, I was able to redirect her and immunise myself. And joining parkrun, was aart of my treatment at that time. 

Where would you like your wellbeing to be?

Engage others in the conversation. Find others who want the same things so you can mutually infect each other with wellbeing.

Together imagine how you would like your wellbeing to be in 6 months, 2 years, 10 years’ time.

If you continue on the path you are on will it give you the wellbeing you want in the future?

If not, start from where you are at.

Start with one thing, one small improvement that would make a difference.

Celebrate all progress, any progress!

Remember: It is all about progress, not perfection. You will have set backs. Life happens. Brush it off and get back on track.

Disclaimer: I am not suggesting you self-diagnose and treat illnesses or diseases. Please seek professional medical advice immediately should you need it. Early detection and intervention could save your life.

Step 3. Make it Stick

Identify your compelling why, your reason from wanting improved wellbeing?

What would it give you? And what would it give your loved ones?

The fuel behind making any change, is having a compelling reason. One that you feel, that moves you. That it gets you up out of your chair and moving. Being healthy. Making time for what matters most to you.

Find others who share that. Like I did at parkrun.

Avoid the “should” statements, like: “I should move more. I should eat better. I should sleep more.” Instead try: “I am walking the dog today.”. “I’m going to pack my lunch”. “I’m going to bed a little early tonight”.

It’s time to stop “shoulding” all over ourselves.

Instead ask yourself: “Why is this not just a “should,” but a must for me?

To make it even more powerful I suggest that you find a reason that is beyond you.

Contribution to something beyond ourselves fuels us and fulfills us.

Borrow my purpose if it resonates with you: 

To be well and create well cultures so that humanity can truly thrive.

Keep your why front and center.


What Else Could be More Important?


Can you think of a single more important cause than your wellbeing and the incredible opportunity to elevate wellbeing where you live, work and play?

So I invite you to join me in stopping the lifestyle disease epidemic right here, right now and contribute to wellbeing contagion©. 

Now imagine if we replicate that around the world, to all of humanity.

What would our world be like if we could achieve that together?  

Let’s infect others with wellbeing!

Ghandi said “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Join me in spreading wellbeing contagion©.

Wellbeing Contagion v1.0b join me.jpg

Thank you!

Get involved or engage our Wellbeing Contagion© services and programs here.

Lana’s previous roles include Strategic Planning Manager for Australia’s largest Co-operative. Backed by a Master of Business Administration (MBA), she has subsequently helped dozens of leaders improve their strategic review, strategic planning and strategy implementation.

Combined with her degree in Applied Science (major in Health Promotion) along with years of company culture and behaviour change work in organisations, Lana provides the perfect blend of knowledge and experience to help organisations and their people thrive.


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Note: Cara is not her real name. Name changed to conceal identity.