Double Bonus

Double Bonus
Stress Management & Improved Relationships

If you knew about something that would improve your health and your relationship all at the same time, would you be interested?

We know that frustration and anger are not good for our health and well being. Physiologically, when we get upset, cortisol and other stress hormones increase. When this happens too often or for too long, our immune system is affected, and we are at increased risk for numerous health problems, including heart disease, digestive problems, depression, sleep problems, memory impairment or certain skin conditions. It’s easy to see why it’s important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stress in your life.

Some of the stressful things that happen in our lives we don’t have control over. We can only choose how we respond to these events. Lately a lot of us have experienced economic stressors, for example, that were caused by circumstances beyond our control. In other situations, we unknowingly create our own stressors. The good news is that in these cases, we can dramatically lower our stress level by developing a little bit of insight.

Let me give you an example: Maryanne and John are a typical couple with two jobs, two children, and not enough time. They sometimes find themselves becoming stressed and snapping at each other. Sometimes they find themselves arguing and they’re not even sure why. She thinks he started it, he thinks she started it. Each thinks the other is being unreasonable. Stress levels rise, marital satisfaction suffers.

Scenario #1. Maryanne becomes impatient and says something a bit too sharply to John. John is irritated. He thinks, “I don’t deserve that. I work hard, too, and she shouldn’t get short with me.” He snaps back at her. Maryanne thinks, “Why is he snapping at me? I’m trying to do six things at once, and I could use a little bit of support.” Now she says something deliberately sharp to John. So now he’s really irritated, and tells her so. Suddenly they’re arguing, and neither really knows why. Each thinks the other started the fight.

Scenario #2. Maryanne becomes impatient and says something a bit too sharply to John. John takes a breath and thinks to himself, “That was a bit rough. I don’t like the way she said that. But I know she’s been under a lot of stress in her job lately, and she’s feeling worried and overworked. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t really mean to take it out on me. She probably doesn’t even realize how that sounded. I know there have been times when I was under a lot of pressure that I didn't always say things perfectly either. I know she loves me, and she could probably use a little extra TLC right now. He allows her to be human and imperfect, asks himself what would help her deal with her stress right now, and offers a supportive comment or gesture.

In this scenario, John has calmed down his own emotional reaction to Maryanne's sharp words, and instead of responding with anger, he responds with support. He feels strong and in control of his own emotions. No argument develops, nobody's blood pressure is raised.

In Secenario #1, everyone’s blood pressure rises, neither person feels supported, and everyone suffers the consequences. In Scenario #2, there is a brief moment of tension, which is smoothed over quickly, and both partners feel more supported and more of a team.

What was the difference here, really? In the first example, John’s thoughts about Maryanne’s impatience inflamed his irritation and anger, and he reacted emotionally with more negativity, igniting the argument. In the second example, John took a moment to think about the situation, give his partner the benefit of the doubt, and choose his response, rather than just reacting emotionally. No hurt feelings, no anger, and no argument.

Learning to pause and to talk yourself down from an emotional reaction does two important things. It lowers your stress response, thereby improving your health, and it improves your relationship. Both increase your happiness.

© Catherine Aisner 2010

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