Communication is a simple and effective tool that often comes as a surprise to most people when discussing stress management techniques. But it should make sense when you think about it. Anything that stays bottled up, eventually blows up. We have all gone through times like this when many little things here and there, slowly start building up to the point where the accumulation of all of this stress overwhelms us.
We are trying to do it all and we are trying to do it all ourselves. We feel like we should be able to do it all ourselves, that we shouldn’t need help with it, that asking for help is a sign of weakness, or a sign that we can’t handle things well. Then we judge ourselves for that. So we plod on hoping that we will be able to get back on top things tomorrow and hoping that someday, it will get better…
But last time I checked, “Someday” isn’t on the calendar. Most of us think “someday” will fall somewhere in between Friday and Monday. But it never shows up there does it? Our weekends get filled up with stuff too.
“Someday” actually never shows up at all. Not on its own. You need to make “Someday” happen yourself.
But more commonly, a loved one or a friend or sometimes even a complete stranger will help “Someday” along for you. They look at you and say, “Hey there, you look a bit stressed out. What’s going on with you?” At first you might try to dismiss it by replying, “Oh nothing, everything’s fine.”
But then, with a little insistence and if the safe space is created, you might actually tell that person what is really going on with you. And that conversation, however brief or in depth it might be, seems to shift something in you somehow. Even though all those little (or big) things are still there in your life, somehow they look a little different and feel a little different…all by just talking about them.
Take the example of having an unresolved issue with someone you care about. An issue that festers for so long that when it is finally talked about and resolved, you wonder why you ever let it go so long or even why it seemed to be such a big deal in the first place. You find that both of you are saying afterwards “Wow, I wish I’d brought that up a long time ago!”
Communication is valuable tool that can be used a lot more often and in many more situations than you think of. “Talking things out” helps you manage the stress in your life because it “takes the edge off” of things, literally by softening the stress around it. It “clears the air” by literally dissipating the negative energy around you and inside of you. It helps to “take the load off your shoulders” and “take the load off your back”, literally the stress and tension that is stored in your neck, shoulders and lower back muscles gets processed and then it is released. It helps you to “get things off your chest” – literally does this as well. It gets that stress off of your heart. It relieves the increased heart rate and high blood pressure that is caused by your pent up feelings of separation, isolation, inadequacy and powerlessness.
The type of Communication that is useful as a stress-relieving tool is Constructive Communication. That is, communication that moves you forward, that brings you closer to taking the actions necessary for this stress to no longer persist in your life and that moves the issue towards resolution. Even what is called “venting” can be constructive if and only if, talking about the situation in that way brings you some relief. So that afterwards, you have more clarity about the situation at hand and you then can engage with it more effectively than you were able to before.
But all too often, “venting” is just complaining and complaining doesn’t get you anywhere. The “pity party” conversation just perpetuates a “victim mentality”. It drains away your power and just keeps you in the stress. Misery might like company, but… who wants to be in that company, right?
Do you know anyone in your life that just always seems to find something to complain about and always seems to use a lot of your time to complain about it? No matter how much or how often they “vent’ to you about it, no matter how many supportive, reassurances you give them and no matter many great ideas you give them on how they could resolve their situation, they just stay stuck in it. It may seem like they like the complaining, they like being stuck in the drama of it all. They must like it somehow; otherwise they wouldn’t keep themselves in it. They would do something about it so it wasn’t part of their life anymore. They might not say that they like it. They probably tell you emphatically that they don’t like it at all. But they are surely getting something out of it unconsciously. That stress or the complaining about it gives them something that serves them on a deeper level than meets the eye.
Jack Canfield makes a keen observation when he points out that part of the reason why complaining doesn’t work is because we usually complain to the wrong people – we complain to the people that can’t do anything about it. We complain to our family about our co-workers and we complain to our co-workers about our family. Your family can’t do anything about your situations on the job and your co-workers can’t do anything about your situations at home.
Constructive Communication is communication that is forward moving and appropriately directed.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the feeling that you have too much to do, ask someone close to you for help so that some of those things can be taken off your plate for a while. If you have an uncomfortable issue with someone at work, schedule a time to sit down and talk with him or her specifically about how you can resolve it together. No one likes to be put on the spot, to be blamed or accused of something or feel like they have been backed into a hostile corner. Everyone likes to be a helper, to solve problems and to work collaboratively with others. So phrase things as a request rather than an ultimatum. So you might start by saying, “In the last few weeks, I have been increasingly concerned about X, Y or Z (whatever your issue is), and I would like to ask for your help in finding a way to improve it. Can you help me with that?” The same goes with issues at home, with your spouse or with your kids.
Sweeping things under the rug never is a good solution. The more you do so, the more dirt accumulates under there. Don’t let that rug get pulled out from underneath you. Commit to be more forthcoming and proactive with your loved ones, knowing that it will bring you closer together and it will make you all lot happier.
It helps to use non-judgmental phrasing like, “When you do this, it makes me feel this way. For example, feel the difference between these two possible ways of trying to clear the air around punctuality:
“I am tired of you showing up late for dinner without letting me know when you are going to be there. If you don’t fix this, I am not going to meet you for dinner anymore.”
Versus: “When you are late for the dinner reservation that we made together and you don’t let me know that you are running late, it makes me feel like you don’t care about me or respect my time. Can you please make an effort to be on time or at least give me a call to let me know that you are not going to make it on time?”
The first way is aggressive, accusatory and full of ultimatums. The second way is simply a statement about your feelings and states a request that can be discussed together. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your requests are going to be agreed to by the other party. But you are much more likely to get your needs being met if you come at it this way.
You can use this same phrasing with yourself when you find yourself stuck in a complaining mode with someone. When you catch yourself going on and on about some complaint, stop yourself and say, “When all of this is happening, I am feeling… this way (and describe to yourself how you are feeling about it).” Then follow that up with “And what I am going to do about it is…” and that will shift you out of the complaining mode and into constructive communication moving you towards resolution.
If you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to, use a journal to get into a dialogue with yourself about it. Write down what is going on, write out what is bothering you and how you feel about it. Then write down anything and everything you can think of that could make it better. Create a list of possible action items (as long a list as you can) to bring you closer to resolving the issue. This will shift yourself into a “problem solving” mode rather than “oh-woe-is-me” mode.
But when it comes right down to it, we all know the same stresses. If you are feeling alone in dealing with a particular stress in your life, no matter what it is, know that you are not the only one that has ever gone through it. There are people around you right now that know exactly what you are going through. They can serve as a huge support system to you if you let them.
We are all in this together. I don’t believe we are meant to go it alone. We are here to support and love and help one another. Think of how good you feel when you are able to help someone else when they are having a problem. Well, those people will feel just as good helping you as you feel when you help them. Reach out and don’t try to shoulder your burden yourself. You will thank yourself for it. Others around you will thank you for it. And your health will thank you for it as well.
*Exerpted from the Being Well Lifestyles Home Study Course by Dr. Jay Warren.
Drawing on over two decades of experience as a hands-on holistic practitioner, Dr. Jay Warren is a primary healthcare provider and licensed chiropractor in the San Diego area. He has spent tens of thousands of clinical hours helping his patients achieve their optimal health potential through holistic approaches bolstered by years of personal experimentation, education and research. Dr. Jay creates customized plans integrating exercise, nutrition and stress management strategies to overcome a myriad of health challenges. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.DrJayWarren.com.