As a communications researcher, it fascinates me that our interactions with one another have such power over our wellness. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of dealing with a ‘difficult’ person where the interactions often left you exhausted. You might have even experienced headaches or tightness in your body by just thinking about having to talk to this person. Thankfully, there is a great deal we can learn about communicating in a way that can actually benefit our emotional (and physical!) health.
It starts with how we are communicating with ourselves. What are the stories you are telling yourself when you are anticipating having to deal with one of these ‘difficult’ people? Often times we find ourselves rehearsing these conversations in our minds, anticipating being irritated “I can’t even stand the look on their face! Ugh. I just know they’re going to be a jerk about it.” Blah blah blah and on and on until you are just as pissed off as you were the last time things took a turn for the worst in the conversation. “Why are they always so defensive? I can’t even get a word in edgewise!” etc etc. You know the drill. I’m sure you’ve been there.
These conversations with the voices in your head can cause the physical symptoms of stress in exactly the same manner as an actual encounter with the person. Your body reacts in exactly the same way. The body doesn’t know that you aren’t really in the presence of the “threatening” person, the fight/flight system kicks in nonetheless.
Pay attention to the stories you are telling yourself. Are they all about what is bound to go wrong, what is lacking, how short on time, money, patience (fill in the blank) you are? These stories, anticipating what the body interprets as “threats” cause the body to go into survival mode: the heart rate quickens, breathing gets shallow, digestion stops, blood flows to the major muscle groups, the brain stem and away from the higher order thinking parts of the brain. This bodily response may be necessary in the face of actual physical threats (a trip and fall, for instance) but this fight or flight response is not sustainable long term. In the short term, it keeps you from thinking clearly and objectively and can sometime cause you to make impulsive and rash decisions.
Pay attention to the inner voices. What are they saying? What are they talking about? If the conversation is a downer, get in there and turn it around. Paying attention to this communication with yourself can have immediate health benefits. By simply paying attention, the body is reminded that this is not an actual “flight or fight” worthy situation. You can take a breath and short circuit the stress response, returning to “rest and digest mode”. With practice, you will find that this awareness will start to pour out into other things and you just might find you can breathe through real-life encounters with ‘difficult’ people and find they really weren’t that difficult after all. ~Namaste~
P.S. I really like this article about handling the stress response in the moment, it kinda inspired this post.