7 Ways to Handle Emotional Stress
Updated: Mar 18, 2022
The Power of Psychosocial stress
We often think of outside factors as stress inducers, for example – sitting in traffic, job changes or moving. But psychosocial stress (as in stress in relationships) is cited as one of the top stressors for people when it comes to emotional stress. What research shows is that what people think you of and how you interact with them sometimes really does matter.
Exchanges that are uncomfortable like direct conflict, situations that leave your wondering if you responded correctly, or situations that leave you worrying where you stand with that person can tax your mind and body. Awkward or uncomfortable situations can also lead to more conflict, misunderstandings, and stand-offs, leaving you feel anxious or depressed.
Your body has a natural way of responding to stress, sometimes boldly (for example somatic responses like sudden pain in your stomach or back), or sometimes in more subtle ways (for example, a sudden questioning of self-worth). Other signs that stress is impacting you can be changes in sleep or eating, changes in mood, or losing your temper over small things. Also having an inexplicable lethargy and general lack of motivation, might be signs that someone or some situation is taxing you.
How does Emotional Intelligence help with the resolution of conflict?
“Emotional intelligence means being able to read your own and other’s emotions and being able to respond to the emotions of others in a cooperative, functional, and empathetic manner”.
John Gottman, Ph.D., The Gottman Institute
Responding to people and situations is normal for us. We are engaged with the world around us and are permeable as humans; things are bound to impact us. Believe it or not, practicing self-care in those uncomfortable moments is one of the best way to help yourself. The self-care skills here are about learning to regulate your emotions. In other words, be in control of them, not have them hijack you or the situation. Taking charge of our emotions can feel quite contradictory to our instincts, which often tell us to keep doing what we have always done in these type of situations, keep fighting – physically, verbally or psychologically to prove we are right or because of that script playing in our head that says we need to defend ourselves. Those thoughts are often due to fear, which can actually elicit unfounded beliefs. Often, we continue to engage and champion the cause, pushing to make sure we are right and heard. But research in social and emotional intelligence actually shows that practicing vital emotional intelligence skills like empathy, understanding, and patience and are actually better for your mind and body. They allow you to become more aware of your thoughts and responses and in turn, allow you to better control your behavior. They also impact the outcome of conflict in a more positive way. As counterintuitive as these concepts feel in the moment, approaching the relationship from this perspective can not only make you feel better but also help prevent a negative outcome. Compassion and understanding are also precursors to compromise, which in marriage is a key factor to success.
“Emotional Intelligence is the measure of an individual’s abilities to recognize and manage their emotions and the emotions of other people, both individually and in groups”.
7 ways to handle emotional stress
Take a break. Not forever, just from the situation in that moment. Walk away when things get heated or super uncomfortable. Break up the tension and go for a walk or ask to “sleep on it” before the yelling starts or before you start to say things you will later apologize for. Give yourself and the other person a change of pace and a chance for a fresh perspective.
Channel your energy through another outlet. Try talking to a friend that can be neutral, supportive and objective. Or try writing things out in a journal. Just write, don’t edit, and get as much out as you can.
Practice mindfulness. This is about taking quiet moments to reflect and think. No, you do not need to sit cross-legged, with palms up chanting “Om” (you can if you want :^) This is more about developing an awareness of your thought process. Learning what triggers you and why, simply by reflecting about it. Observing your thoughts and reactions with curiosity not judgment is a great way to support yourself.
Go for a walk or workout. Sounds like a distraction but actually exercise has been clinically proven to help with depression and changes in mood. Raising your heart rate pumps blood through your body and into your brain, releasing endorphins, which kicks off a whole other series of chemical responses in your brain. It may not solve the issue itself, but the minute you start working out, you are practicing great self-care by helping your body diffuse the stress and tension out of your body.
Try to dialogue vs. debate. When you return to the conversation, make sure you are both in a calm state. Instead of trying to win the battle and lose the war, try pursuing a dialogue vs. another heated debate. Become a good listener and practice compassion. If what is being said is a trigger for your, don’t say anything, but try really listening from the other person’s perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. Repeat back what they are saying in an understanding way. Then just sit with that. Don’t judge. Keep the dialogue going in an open manner and look for something you can take with you as a learning lesson.
Think before you speak. Why you are engaging with such passion or rigidity to what the person is saying? Do you really need to say it in a way that will be perceived as hurtful or insulting? What can you gain from engaging in battle? Is this topic worth the fight? Is there another way to hold your position and not hurt the other person in the process?
Look from an accountability perspective. What will be the outcome of what you are doing and/or saying? What will you be accountable for in this situation? Is the topic worth fighting over? Is there another way to resolve it or say what you need to say in less harming way?
Next time you find yourself getting heated, try one of these techniques to move towards peace of mind.