Often in life the people closest to us know how stressed we are before we do. The ironic part about stress is that often our own reaction to stress causes more stress than the original stressor.
There are unlimited ways to react to stress and there are unlimited causes of stress. That being said there are some basic principles that we can get to.
Let’s start with some common reactions to being stressed:
- Withdrawing from other - emotionally, socially, physically
- Becoming hyper-focused and driven
- Becoming more verbal and chatty
- Looking to be rescued and feeling personally paralyzed and overwhelmed
- Embracing aggression as a way to feel more powerful
- Forgetfulness and inability to focus
- Turning to comfort eating or any other addiction that brings comfort
- Becoming controlling of one’s environment and/or nearby people
All of these, and there are many more, can bring some short-term relief and some make way for healthy changes and access to resources to help with the original stress. However, all too often how to choose to deal with our stress leads to further complications.
Now, let’s really complicate it by putting two people together in a close relationship. Yikes. This can get tricky and quickly!
How we have experienced others in our family when they were stressed growing up really factors in here in big ways. Let me share an example from my own life to illustrate. My Dad in his extreme dysfunction passive-aggressively used ‘the silent treatment’ when he was mad about something. This went way beyond needing space to process something. As a result, I used to interpret the need for space and silence by the introverts in my life as anger.
Now, let’s look at my responses to stress. I’m very extroverted so socializing, talking and connecting to people are ways that I often react to stress.
Let’s put this together:
1) Introvert A needs space and quiet.
2) Extrovert B (i.e. Marilyn) spikes in stress level because her brain is interpreting the quiet and withdrawal as a personal statement and that said Introvert A is angry with her.
3) Without even necessarily being conscious of this dynamic Marilyn copes with her stress by trying to engage Introvert A in conversation, making the mood lighter, etc.
4) Now Introvert A, who may not have even been stressed before is. They begin to engage their favorite stress response, which is likely to include withdrawal.
You can easily see how these stress responses can so quickly spiral and impact both people. We haven’t even had to have an initial stress for the cycle to start.
So then, how do we break these unproductive cycles and help each other through stresses instead of making it worse?
What I had to learn, the hard way, was to notice when I might be making assumptions and ask questions instead of charging full speed ahead.
Here are some great questions to ask when you notice yourself or your partner exhibiting stress symptoms:
- What would help you the most right now?
- How can I support you best?
- Who besides me can help you?
- What is one thing you would like me to do more of in the next few days?
- What is one thing you would like me to do less of?
- I’m reacting to you like you are stressed, are you?
- I’m feeling stressed but don’t know what I need: can you help me talk this through?
Owning our own stress and our response to it goes a long long way. Know what you need, know what you don’t need and practice telling your partner and others close to you what would be most helpful.
Until next time,
Marilyn Orr, The Luv Life Coach
Marilyn Orr, MA, CEC, PCC is a relationship coach with Luv Life Coaching, passionate about equipping couples with the tools for real and lasting intimacy.
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