Dealing with Stressful Relationships

Whether they are intimate personal relationships, friendships or relationships with colleagues at work we are all affected by our relations with others. So much so that it can be very difficult when relationships breakdown. Any problems can impact our confidence and self esteem and even our health. Each situation is different and there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution. With my clients I use a combination of approaches to suit the individual and whilst this short article cannot hope to provide all the answers, hopefully these few tips may help along the way.

  •  Stop for a moment and focus on something else. The old advice to count to 10 really does help in some situations. It gives you a moment of distraction which stops you saying something you might regret and allows you to rethink your response. Sometimes a short break is all we need in order to calm down and deal effectively with something.
  •  Take a deep breath - If you stop and focus on your breath, just a few breaths in and out that can be enough to interrupt the feelings of anger, anxiety, stress or upset. Breathing deeply allows more oxygen to the brain and can calm you down and make you feel more settled and able to cope. Try to breath allowing your tummy to move out as you breathe in (rather than moving your upper chest) this allows the diaphragm below the lungs to move and the lungs to expand fully.
  • Try taking a different perspective - easy to say I know... but when you can feel an argument looming, try looking at things another way. For instance, if your boss shouts at you it may be easy to think 'he's rude', or that you are somehow in the wrong. However, he could be shouting for a number of reasons ... perhaps he's stressed out and having a bad day, perhaps he is going a bit deaf and can't tell how loud he is, perhaps it is an urgent and important thing that needs doing and shouting is his way of conveying that urgency. Not everyone is a skilful communicator. Taking a different perspective may help you avoid jumping to conclusions and keep you calm.
  • Try not to mind read - very few of us are able to read minds but all of us think we can from time to time. Please be honest with yourself. Do you REALLY know what he or she is thinking, do you really know why they said what they said? The answer is always 'no'. We don't know what is going on in someone else’s mind. Making assumptions is often what makes us unhappy. If you can accept that at best you are making an educated guess, but in reality you are just making it up, then you can choose to make up something that makes you feel better. For instance: take the scenario that someone doesn't call when they said they would. You have no idea why. However, you immediately go into your usual stuff about that person. Maybe you think 'they don't like me anymore' - which will make you feel bad. Or 'they never do what they promise' or 'they are unreliable' - which may make you feel resentful. Or 'they must have had an accident!' which will make you feel worried. Whatever your story is about them not ringing will affect how you feel and what actions you take as a result. Taking the view that they didn't call because 'they got busy, something cropped up' has a very different feel and leads to very different actions.
  • Spend more time focusing on the positive - the more you focus on what is good about that person and your relationship with them the more positive you will feel about it. And the more positive things you will notice, giving you more to feel positive about.... A virtuous circle! Also try giving genuine compliments too. It is said that for each criticism we give another, we need to balance it with about 10 compliments! I don't know how true that is, but most people do hear criticism more easily than praise.
  • Apologise when you are in the wrong and learn when to back off. Being right about something is rarely more important than the relationship itself. All relationships are a process of give and take.
  • Practice the art of forgiveness- we are often particularly hard on ourselves and our nearest and dearest. It is as if we expect almost super-human behaviour sometimes. Everyone makes mistakes and it is worth learning how to forgive both yourself and others.

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