It’s no surprise that personal stress spills over into our relationships, and to all other aspects of our lives. Stress tends to be contagious, too, so that one partner’s stress “transfers” to the other partner and sometimes kids.
Even in the best of circumstances, there’s a lot of stuff one can be stressed about. Just making a living, minding a job or business, raising a family and dealing with the myriad responsibilities of modern life can raise anyone’s blood pressure.
Personal stress can show up in many ways and have many side effects. Here are some of them …
- One or both partners withdraws
- We disappear into ourselves
- We quit communicating
- One person shuts out the other
- We become alienated and disconnected from each other
- We might become less affectionate, distracted, superficial
- We obsess about the things that stress us
- We get more sensitive and take things more personally
- Negative behaviors become more visible
- We’re less able to stop ourselves from reacting
- We get more irritable, hostile which leads to more fighting
- We have shorter fuses
- We tend to vent, we got less filters, we say stupid stuff that creates more problems
- We get depleted, tired, fatigued.
- We can’t think as clearly, we make more mistakes
And there are probably more (we didn’t even mention the physical health consequences of stress, which are legion!)
So what can we do about this?
#1 Break it down
First, break down your stressors. What specifically is it that you feel stressed about? It’s useful to break it down, because that opens the door to take productive action. As long as you’re in a generalized state of “I’m so stressed”, without getting clear about the stressors, you can’t do anything about it, it just festers inside you.
So break it down. Is it that you got a pink slip? That you have too many responsibilities at work? Is it that there are problems in your marriage? Or that your kids are growing up and leaving the house?
Make a list or talk it out with your partner or a friend.
#2 Determine what you DO have control over
Because there are so many things in life we don’t have control over (Covid, anyone?), it’s easy to just feel victimized.
So what CAN you take action around?
What DO you have some control over?
Where DO you have power?
It’s always useful to shift your mindset to one of opportunity and agency instead of problems and victimization. So you look at the stressors in your life and ask yourself, What if this was a challenge for me? What if (for some unknown reason) this was somehow happening for me? What could I learn here?
Call us hopelessly insistent on optimism, but Sonika & I have always used that mindset to help us turn around stressful situations, the external causes of which we had no control over. Our favorite question is, How are we going to use this to our benefit?
And it’s never failed to galvanize and invigorate our hearts and minds. Remember, the goal here is to do something useful to alleviate and transform your stress, not necessarily to change the whole world.
#3 Take action
Once you break down your stressors, and look at what you can control and have some influence over, then it’s time to take action. No matter how stressful the situation, there are always a host of productive actions you can take.
Some ideas …
- Reduce your workload. Take on less tasks. Say no to stuff.
- Create better self-care habits, such as sit in silence for a bit in the morning, or watch the sunset, or take a hot bath.
- Get other people to take some work off your plate
- Pay someone to do stuff around the house
- Talk to a co-worker to help you with some of your projects
- Ask for help. We sometimes forget we don’t have to do everything solo.
- And as I always like to remind myself, “Chill the f*** out and stop worrying about stuff that’ll probably never happen” (being someone who’s prone to doing exactly that!)
#4 Create and cultivate empowering daily routines
Today I started my day with 45 min of Tai Chi on our deck, just me and the birds. That’s a daily routine I’ve started in Covid times to help myself feel better. Sonika started the day by envisioning how to best support the clients she’d be meeting with later.
The key here is “feel better”. What routines could you cultivate that would make you feel better? Not just once, but every day, or regularly (hence “routine”, not just a one-time action).
In the face of stress, some people fret, some obsess, some get angry, and some get depressed. Either way, stress is depleting, so by having daily routines that help you reinvigorate, you alleviate your stress.
#5 What can you do together?
How can you help each other? How can you leverage your relationship to ease your stress? So often, we respond to stress by isolating and carrying the whole burden internally. That’s when you know it’s time to use each other; to come up with what you can do together.
We always start by connecting and sharing openly about whatever it is that stresses us. Speaking it out loud, getting it off your chest to someone who will listen without correction, is a time-tested winner for de-stressing. If you feel like you should be able to handle this yourself, maybe you even feel ashamed that you even need to talk about it, then say all that out loud.
Remind yourself that you’re in this together, that you’re on the same team. In times of stress and frustration, who do most people take it out on? Their partners, who becomes an adversary instead of an ally. So use each other, lean on each other, connect, and keep talking. The very act of being vulnerable can help you shed some of the tension, stress, and worry that you carry.
Or, sometimes even better, stop talking all together, go snuggle up or jump in a hot bath and just feel your bodies. Give each other a massage or make love, and see if your stress doesn’t evaporate, at least for a time.
Here’s one super effective and connecting action you can take together for your relationship, which will definitely help with your stress.
We created a 90-min mini-workshop for couples to deal with stress and disagreements, How To Be More Understanding During Disagreements.
In this workshop-from-your-couch, we are going to help you:
* Find understanding
* Relieve tension and stress
* Discover common ground between each other
* Get on the same page
* Learn techniques to de-escalate during conflict
* Get back to connection
We have helped thousands of couples navigate crisis and stressful times, and we’d be honored to help you, too.