Why Negative People Are Literally Killing You (and How to Protect Your Positivity)

New research says negativity is incredibly harmful and contagious, so how do you protect yourself from it?

Happiness is something that we all strive for. While it’s nearly impossible to rid negative thoughts, people and situations altogether (we’ll always have good and bad days), we can choose to strip away the parts our life that bring us down and instead refocus that energy towards being the best versions of ourselves.

And some of these biggest detriments to success we encounter come from toxic people.

Yup, we’ve all encountered that co-worker who acts like a Negative Nancy, or that acquaintance who bears a striking resemblance to Eeyore. While you know these types of people are no fun to be around, what you might not realize is that they can actually have incredibly negative effects on your health and success.

Scientific research indicates that negativity is contagious, akin to a cold.

“Feelings circulate in patterns analogous to what’s seen from epidemiological models of disease,” reported Wired.

Quite simply, no matter how positive of a person you are, negative people can affect your life, unless you take the right precautions.

The effects are also drastic. Research has shown that even a small amount of negative brain activity can lead to a weakened immune system, making you more prone to illness, and even lead to a heart attack or a stroke.

Negative attitudes can also affect your intelligence and ability to think — according to Dr. Travis Bradberry, negativity compromises the effectiveness of the neurons in the hippocampus — an important area of the brain responsible for reasoning and memory.

So, how exactly do you rid yourself from unnecessary negativity, and protect yourself from these harmful effects? Here are some proven methods to adopt:

First, it’s time to say ‘goodbye’

Don’t wait until a toxic person in your life has brought you so far down that you forget how to get back up. You need to surround yourself with people who inspire you, encourage you and help you realize your potential.

Oprah Winfrey herself advocates this method and has said, “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.”

Life is simply too short to be friends with toxic individuals — and plus, there’s a lot of great people out there.

If you’re looking to meet new like-minded positive people, consider volunteering — it’s not only a great life practice, but it’s a great way to surround yourself with happier attitudes.

If you’re encountering a negative crowd at work, consider getting a mentor. Throughout my career, I have always been fortunate to have several mentors who push me to dream bigger and expect more from myself. Mentors often have a larger vision for us than we have for ourselves, and their confidence in our potential inspires us to reach higher than we could have imagined on our own.

Then, set limits (especially with complainers)

Granted, there are people who you can’t eliminate from your life (at least not right away), like co-workers or bosses. Thankfully, there are some proven ways to protect your positive attitude from the influence of others, even if you’re stuck with them for 8+ hours a day.

Complainers and negative people are bad news because they wallow in their problems. Often, they want people to join their negativity party. And, often we feel pressure to listen to these negative individuals because we don’t want to be seen as rude, but there’s a huge difference between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into others’ negative emotional tornadoes.

You can avoid all this by setting limits and distancing yourself when possible. Think of it this way: if the negative person was smoking instead, would you sit there inhaling the second-hand smoke?

No — you’d distance yourself, and you should do the exact thing same with toxic people. A great way to set limits is to ask complainers how they intend to fix the problem. They will either stop their negativity or redirect the conversation towards positivity.

Choose your battles

Don’t engage every time someone irritates you or tries to bring you into their negativity.

Not only will you be seen as argumentative, you’ll be welcoming the toxicity into your own space. Rather than argue, try to ignore any negative comments. For instance, when a coworker starts complaining, say you have work to do rather than changing your mind or pretending to agree with them.

Work on your emotional intelligence and prevent the situation from escalating. Walk away from unnecessary conflict — you’ll be respected for taking the high road.

Make someone else smile

President Obama said that “if you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”

That’s more than just a pretty speech. Consider someone else’s happiness — the good news is that positive attitudes are also contagious.

Multiple scientific studies have shown that paying it forward not only makes others feel better, but creates long-lasting feelings of joy within yourself, and can provide that much-needed boost to your overall mood.

Bring some donuts into work. Offer people coffee. Offer to help with a project. Do what you can to get the whole team beaming, and they’ll do the same for you.

The bottom line

It’s never too late to make alterations or transitions in your life. Is your job making you unhappy? Start looking for a new one! Address and understand the things that are controlling your unhappiness. By doing so, you can get to work on making the necessary changes needed to make your life as successful as possible.

Do you have any tips for avoiding negativity? I want to hear them — leave a comment or give me a shout-out on Twitter!

If you liked this piece, be sure to check out the rest of my articles on Medium, and my column for Inc. Magazine.