Given how busy and stressed many of us feel about our lives, we are certainly right to be concerned about the impact of stress on our health and well-being.

We are also right to be concerned about the impact on our relationships.

In workplaces, for example, the stress of ongoing change, high workloads and difficult customers can make us more sensitive, easily offended or come across poorly to others. Perhaps we hold it together at work, but when we get home our poor loved ones can be on the receiving end of our frustrations.

When highly stressed, we often respond to frustrations by resorting to behaviours that were learned from our childhood – perhaps complaining, blaming, criticising, exploding or withdrawing from others. Think about that for a moment.

Here I am speaking of behaviours with which we have practised for our lifetime, which while very human and understandable, such behaviours, continued over time, tend to create further stress, hurt and frustration for others.

When highly stressed or frustrated with others, our brain also diverts blood flow from the Prefontal Cortex, which helps us to think about our choices, to an older part of our brain that releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

This physiological response is functional in life-threatening situations, helping us to run away from danger or physically defend ourselves. However, this response tends to makes it harder for us to think reasonably and express our emotions appropriately in our relationships.

None of us are at our best when highly stressed. And while it helps to appreciate the stress that others are under so we are less offended, we also need to look at the actions we need to take to reduce the impact of stress on our life.

What are some of these actions?

  1. Address those stressors that are in your control: Here we are endeavouring to reduce the stressors we are exposed to so we are less likely to go to extremes of our own behaviour.

    Sometimes life happens to us and we have to make the best of it. Other times, we are our own worst enemy, thinking or acting in ways that contribute to our own stress.

    There is a time to call for a fresh start with a difficult relationship at work and speak about actions both can take. There are actions that workplaces can take to address ongoing difficulties. There is also a time to leave a miserable workplace or team. But I suggest you first exhaust all reasonable actions to turn things around.

    Of course, if the stress has also affected our health, we may well need to act sooner. We may also need the support of third party such as a supportive doctor or psychologist, so we are in a better position to take action.

  2. Take action to improve your resilience and well-being: Resilient people do get stressed. But they take action to restore their well-being by taking action to counter negative stress with positive experiences.

    We all have different pictures of what makes a quality life, positive experiences we enjoy. For me, quality living includes good connections with family and friends, regular bike rides, a good coffee each morning, and time by the beach where we live. Doing more of what is quality for us can certainly help to regain some of our well-being, even while we are dealing with stress.

  3. Give yourself and others time out to settle: When highly stressed or frustrated with others, it is often helpful to call for time out to give ourselves and perhaps others time to settle. This also allows our body time to expel the stress hormones and for our heart rate to settle.

    Good sleep and exercise also helps to expel the stress hormones, our body to recover, and puts us in a better position to think and act more constructively.

    However, time out by itself is not enough. Some of us are waking up highly stressed. This is a sign that actions of some type need to be taken and there are other actions we need to take, perhaps some that are mentioned in this article.

  4. Diversify your strategies for dealing with frustrations with others: Human beings, we are creatures of habit and often resort to the same behaviours, even when those choices are damaging to our relationships.

    Here we need to flexible enough to choose the right approach for the situation. There is a time to be forthright and try to get our way. There is a time to suggest a compromise or collaborate on the way forward. There are also times to resist the urge to criticise and get over an upset by ourselves.

  5. Let others know what helps: I recall an old colleague who, each day, would draw a picture of her face with some tips on how to approach her on that day. She would then bluetack this picture on her office door. While this was a joke at her own expense, I do endorse letting people know what helps when feeling stressed.

    With colleagues, it could be keeping you in the loop about how things are going with a shared responsibility or asking for help if they need it. With family and friends, it could be simply listening to you, giving reassurance that things are going to be Ok, or helping you to challenge irrational ways of thinking.

    While speaking up does not guarantee that others will respond well. I can guarantee more of the same if you rely on their mind-reading skills.

I hope you agree with me – that life is way too short to be consumed by stress or difficulties with others. So, what actions are you prepared to take to reduce the impact of negative stress and develop more quality in your life?

You, your colleagues and your family certainly deserve a better you.

Quote of the week

“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”

– Lee Iacocca

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