My Turn: Beware of holiday stress
November 24, 2008
Whether it is stressors pertaining to upcoming holidays or worries and anxiety related to the economic downturn, our relationship can be a powerful support system for us. It is interesting to note that frequently external stressors carry over into our relationship and now we have an additional set of problems.
One would think that our partner, our best friend, our lover would be the one at our side supporting us in moving through stressful situations and/or times. What tends to happen instead is that when we are experiencing stress we project our tensions, fears and concerns onto our partner. Some of us become more withdrawn and when asked what is wrong we reply with a resistant, “nothing.”
In this scenario, our partner is left on their own, feels isolated and begins to make up assumptions of all the things that could be wrong and now also feels stressed. Others of us express our frustrations, angers, fears and concerns reactively, from the short fuse of the felt tension. So that person appears irritable, tense and hostile. The partner reacts by becoming protective of themselves, not wanting to have that painful emotional energy coming their way.
In this article I will present techniques and options that will actually help strengthen our relationship during times of stress. This will result in our feeling not alone with our concerns and additionally give us a sense of having an ally in our lives.
Tip 1: Self-awareness.
It is imperative that each of us wake up and notice what is going on with us. Notice our physical sensations such as tightening of our jaws, tense back or shoulders, head tension, tiredness, intestinal upset and over or under eating or drinking.
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Notice your emotions. Are you easily angered, snapping at others? Do you have reduced concentration, low motivation, a “short fuse”? Are you thinking others are upset with you? Are you wanting to isolate? Are you feeling disconnected, worried and depressed?
Tip 2: Sharing of our awareness
Ask your partner to just listen to you without interruption. Then share your awareness, what you are observing in yourself. Totally eliminate blame and criticism. Share the source of your stress; eg. money, the economy, upcoming holidays. Be very specific about what your fears are. Eg. “I really don’t want to go to the family Thanksgiving and listen to Uncle Ben get down on Aunt Betty. I am afraid one of these times I will just go off on him and that will create a huge family upset.”
Ask your partner to summarize what they heard regarding what is stressing you and how you are feeling. Perhaps then you could discuss options and ideas. Sometimes just getting it off your chest is very relieving. This will also help your partner understand what is going on with you.
Tip 3: Willingness to listen to your partner
Let your partner know that you are available to listen to them. They may feel similar stressors and you might not be aware of that. And they may have their own stressors.
Tip 4: Working together as a team
Listening to each other is the beginning of creating a strong support system. Having the attitude of wanting to be there for one another is another essential ingredient. Since it is likely that we don’t know what our partner needs to help them in a stressful time, we can ask them what we can do. We can do some brainstorming regarding the situation to create ideas and behaviors that will help us get through it.
Tip 5: Expressing gratitude
When we are experiencing stress it tends to be all that we focus on. We forget about all that we have in life. Thus, it is very helpful to share all that we are grateful for in our lives, to share these with one another, listening to each other. These gratitudes range from our health, where we live, aspects of our jobs, family, friends, who our partner is in our lives and spiritual things. Speaking these and hearing them from our partner helps to balance out our perceptions and may be helpful in putting a less intense value on the specific stressor.
These tips may appear easy to do. However, unless you are already living in this manner (and most of us aren’t) they will be difficult. Changing life patterns is difficult and requires commitment and frequent action.
Seeking out coaching for these desired changes can be very helpful. The coaching gives you the structure to achieve the “Tips”. It also can help clarify more deeply the source of your stressors. Identifying these sources/origins is essential to alleviating them.
And, very importantly, the coaching helps you and your partner safely communicate and really want to understand each other’s world. The book, “Getting the Love You Want,” by Harville Hendrix is excellent. I conduct workshops for couples to help them with these issues and, in fact, one is scheduled the first weekend in December.