Who else wants less stress from their relationships?
"I told you I hate that hat!"
Have a difficult boss at work, get into too many fights with your significant other for your liking, or get intensely angry about slow walkers on the sidewalk? It happens to all of us. Maybe you were bopping along to the sweet jimmy jams in your head and all of a sudden you interacted with someone and something they said or did brought you down. It lowered your vibrational energy. You didn’t feel like dancing anymore. You started feeling angry, self-conscious, anxious, depressed, or some other unpleasant emotion. How do you fight against this? How do you get off that rocking boat of emotions and join a smooth sailing journey?
In this 3-part De-Stress Your Everyday series, I'm going to teach you some methods to help ward off these externally-caused emotional swings.
I've collected these methods over several years and they are inspired by Buddhism, mindfulness, human psychology, and my tried-and-true experiences. In this first article of the series, we will be discussing more intimate relationships (for example with your significant other). In the second article we’ll figure out professional relationships (e.g. with your boss). In the final article we’ll get into how to manage with a complete stranger (like those dastardly slow walkers). Be sure to read all three even if you are mostly interested in one because, although I've categorized these strategies, they can be useful in a wide variety of situations. Let's get to it!
1. Get rid of your ego
This is numero uno for a reason. In many interpersonal conflicts or other issues, a lot of the tension and escalation results from our over-sized heads.
Reality check: not everything is about you.
You may feel like the main character of this story, the hero, but guess what, everyone else feels the same way. If you just had a weird tingly feeling and you realized that every random person you meet is having a life as vivid and complex as your own, don't worry, you're not alone. It's a feeling colloquially called sonder. That can be your word of the day. To other people, you are a supporting actor/actress, maybe even just a cameo, or only “lady who tripped on the stairs #2” if you even make the credits of their movie.
You're in there...somewhere.
Realize and come to terms with the fact that you are not inherently more important than others and, like you, everyone is wrapped up in their crap that feels like it's the most important stuff in the world. Really taking this to heart and incorporating it into your consciousness makes life a lot easier as you will soon see.
Being able to release your ego comes from a place of self-confidence and feeling secure in who you are as a person. You don't feel the need to assert your importance over others because you know inside who you are and that you matter. So if you find yourself having difficulty with this, think about why that might be. Do you feel you have to act a certain way to look strong or intelligent or some other positive characteristic? Do you lack self esteem? Are you overly attached to less productive ways of thinking? We'll talk more about feeling the need to act a certain way and attachments in part 2 of this series.
2. See the interaction from the other person’s perspective.
Like bringing up old grievances, despite multiple attempts, I've found hypnosis is not an effective tactic,
Ok, be honest, did you just roll your eyes? I know this seems like dime-a-dozen advice but that's because people go about it the wrong way. This is not some froufrou "think about their feelings so the world’s a better place" sort of thing. No! We are here to de-stress you, not save the world. Maybe we’ll do that later, but first we have to save you! I actually use this tactic a lot with my wife.
Here's how it would usually go:
She would start getting mad at me and my initial reaction was typically a heart-pounding fight-or-flight response. I would feel this desire to get angry back. It was almost defensive. I was not thinking if she had a point. I was thinking OFFENSE IS THE BEST DEFENSE, LET'S GO! I would consider bringing up all these things that had only slightly irked me in the past, using them like chaff. This would lead to a bigger fight or me just saying, "Ugh this isn't worth it" and simply saying sorry or agreeing because I didn't want to deal. Either of these choices led to low level activation of my sympathetic fight-or-flight response and inevitably chronic sympathetic overdrive. You know what I'm talking about – that unpleasant feeling when you have an unresolved fight. This is a component of your chronic stress and is affecting your energy levels, mental fortitude, and the overall health of your body and mind.
How do I manage now?
First, I take a calming breath. Then I get rid of that ego (see #1). Then I ask myself: what is really going on? Note: please do not ask the other person what is really going on – it will not go over well.
When answering the question "What is really going on?" you really have three options:
This thing is a real issue and the other person has a point that I am in the wrong.
This thing is a real issue but my role in it is overstated (I'm not really in the wrong here).
This thing is not a real issue - the person is blowing things out of proportion because they are actually tired, stressed, hungry, nervous, anxious, feeling unsupported, feeling unloved, sick, or any other of a number of causes.
Now, the reason to go through this is not so you can just say, "Oh shame he or she is sick" and then you can go sing Kumbaya together while commiserating over your feelings. The point is to create an action plan for yourself.
So what do you do in the above three situations?
Acknowledge your role in creating this issue, apologize, and commit to trying to do better next time.
Occasionally running away is a viable option.
First, do what you did in Case 1. If another person is mad, calm them down first. Don’t wave a red flag at the bull. This other person thinks you’re at fault and you care about them, so say sorry. Your ego is gone now so what does it matter anyway? Then when the person is more calm, you can ask to discuss the issue and mention how you aren’t clear on how you were at fault or had as big of a role in it as was suggested. Remember, you say that you are not clear on how you were at fault. You do not start yelling, "But it's not my fault!" Be an adult and be tactful.
Guess what! Still do what you did in Case 1! This person is running on emotion or some other feeling and those are not entirely rational fuels, so calm them down first by apologizing etc. You don't lose anything by apologizing, you only gain. Trying to argue with an irrational person is useless. Let's try to help them instead of making things worse. Once you've done the Case 1 actions, to the best of your ability, identify and address the emotion/issue. For example.:
If hungry: Provide food
If tired: DO NOT SAY “Take a nap”. Be tactful about it. Say something like, "You’ve worked hard today, why don’t you lie down for a bit while I cook dinner?" Don't forget to actually make dinner though.
If stressed: Diffuse some essential oils or ask if they want a massage
If it’s not something you can fix just be a shoulder to cry on (bring tissues!) and support the person in what they’re going through. Sometimes all a person needs is acknowledgement and someone to listen to them.
Unlike with Case 2, here you don’t really need to discuss the problem later unless it’s a chronic issue. For example the person doesn’t eat until hangry every day and it's getting old.
2b. Listen, Advise, or Act
That third case we just discussed, figuring out why someone is making mountains out of mole hills and then figuring out a course of action, can be difficult. So as an interim step, you can use the Listen, Advise, or Act technique. It's simple. In any given situation, you ask yourself do I need to listen to this person (e.g. let them vent about a tough day), advise them (e.g. help them feel less stressed at work by helping them work through an issue), or act (e.g. make dinner so they can take a nap)? Breaking it down in this way can be a good stepping stone to being able to recognize different states in a person and reacting accordingly.
The key in more intimate interpersonal relationships is to not get riled up, diffuse the situation, and help your compadre. You’ll get brownie points and no fight. Double win.
Take note of 3 things about this advice and this applies to all parts of this 3-part series.
Although these tips can help you respond more calmly to those unpleasant moments in your life, I don’t want you to think I am suggesting you be weak and let other people walk all over you. These tips are to help you be calm internally in the face of external stressors. This will allow you to more effectively address the situation when needed (remember, screaming often does not get you listened to) and to let go of emotions, thoughts, and feelings when they do not serve you.
It's ok if you slip up sometimes and get angry or feel strong unpleasant emotions. Just ride that wave of emotions. If you happen to take it out on someone, we’ll just have to hope the other person read this article :)
Instituting this in your life is for peace of mind and therefore for your health. By calming your inner space you decrease your sympathetic drive (that fight-or-flight response) and decreases the stress your mind and body has to deal with. This will give you more energy, greater mental clarity, and a healthier body.