Stress and Personal Space – When People Invade Your Privacy

April 4, 2018

Personal space is a private, intimate, and exclusive territory which nobody can invade or claim. The term personal space not only refers to a physical thing. It also has to do with the invasion of this area by other stimuli. For example, noise, emotions transmitted by others, and an overload of information. Also, the constant interruptions of our moments of solitude and privacy.

Sometimes there are people who go through life as pachyderms. They act like large elephants invading other people’s spaces, trampling on their rights, and harming their privacy. This effect happens a lot in workplaces, without a doubt affecting productivity. It also generates high levels of stress and discomfort.

People need safe personal space to feel protected, reduce stress, and remain focused.

There is one aspect of this that we can’t ignore. Personal space not only refers to the area in which we can tolerate the physical presence of others. Where the voices, breathing, or body heat of others make us feel uncomfortable and even threatening. Personal space is also a bubble which any kind of psycho-sensory stimulation can pop.

In other words, certain things such as furniture, decoration, lack of illumination, or the smell of a particular environment can also be a source of stress. Likewise, not being able to take a break, or being constantly supervised or controlled are clear invasions of our privacy as well.

A giant rose in the middle of a maze.

Privacy and stress

Anne and Paul have just become parents and are feeling overwhelmed. The stress they experience has nothing to do with their baby, but with their environment, family, friends, and co-workers. Since they were in the hospital, their personal space has been continuously invaded by their loved ones. People full of excitement and with good intentions, who took turns meeting the newborn, picking him up, and giving them a thousand parenting tips.

This small example is a sample of how the environment can sometimes invade that personal bubble which we need to preserve only for ourselves. You don’t need to enter an elevator full of people to experience discomfort. The most serious “aggressions” often come from those closest to us. Here’s where the prevailing need to know how to set limits is born.

Thus, this reality is something that psychologists see very often in their consultations. They meet people who have spent half their lives feeling unable to protect their privacy. That immobility or inability to manage personal borders generates a high emotional cost, leaves a dent, and completely weakens the deepest foundations of our psychological architecture.

Take into account that defining, delimiting, and protecting your personal space is a very important key to survival. It’s also an exercise in self-knowledge, where we understand that we all have our limits. We have lines that nobody should cross because that is where our self-esteem is found. Where our balance is contained, where our valuable identity resides…

A woman asking for more privacy.

Take care of yourself and protect your personal space

Ralph Adolph and Daniel P. Kennedy, neurologists at the University of Caltech in the United States, discovered that there’s a structure in our brain which is responsible for telling us where the limits of our personal space lie. This structure is the amygdala, a small region associated with fear and the survival instinct.

This discovery reveals something essential. The brain measures the personal limits of each individual. It’s like a personal alarm which tells us when something or someone is bothering us. When something is invading our privacy or violating our integrity until it becomes a threat to our well-being. These limits are different for each person. Some people feel overwhelmed and get easily stressed by minimal stimuli, while others have much greater tolerance.

Proxemics is the science which studies the effects of our interrelationships in the use of space. It reminds us that one of our greatest sources of anxiety is witnessing how we feel more “crowded” every day in every way. Not only do we have smaller physical spaces for everything. On top of that, we receive so many stimuli and so much pressure and interactions around us. So much so, that we don’t get to set any filters. We let everything come our way, we allow ourselves to be caught and surrounded…

A woman with a cube of water on her head.

Be your own protector

We must be capable of managing our personal limits. We’re talking about learning how to place both physical and psychological distance from all external dynamics which attack our privacy and act as powerful sources of stress. Sometimes, our colleagues invade our space. Others very noisy, excessively colorful, tiny, or oppressive environments can be the problem.

In other cases, our inability to say no and to make clear what we can and can’t tolerate will guard our personal space. Being explicit when it comes to indicating where our personal boundaries lie will help us interact much better with others. Because only by doing so will we be able to shape a more respectful, productive and, above all, healthy social environment.