Have you noticed the flood of talks and articles about managing stress? That’s probably because stress has become so widespread as to be almost regarded as normal.
“What! You’re not stressed?!?! What’s wrong with you!?!?”
I’m only half joking. It really is that bad.
But this is what I notice – all these talks and articles (and I checked the internet in great detail) focus only on the obvious – not that the obvious is bad; in fact, the obvious, such as sleep, hydration, diet, exercise, hobbies and so on is really very good advice.
And there are also the things that you would definitely benefit from stopping such as comfort eating, excessive drinking, burning the candle at both ends, smoking or taking drugs.
But, as important as these things are, there two other areas which are fundamental in managing stress.
The interesting thing is that, unless you specifically search for them, you won’t find them mentioned in any stress management intervention:
- Destructive relationships
- Limiting beliefs
When I first started working all those years ago I used to be told, “Leave your personal life at home.”
We now know that this is simply impossible. You may try to compartmentalise your life but this will just add to your stress levels.
So here are the two additional powerful ways to manage your stress.
Destructive personal relationships
I was married for 37 years – throughout most of those years I felt deeply unhappy – unloved, unimportant, taken for granted, even invisible – but pretended things weren’t as bad. I was really good at denial.
However, my body could not be fooled and I developed all kinds of conditions, some more serious than others – repeated episodes of clinical depression, pains – some more severe than others which came and went without any obvious rhyme or reason.
My GP and the hospitals I was referred to treated the symptoms and never looked deeper.
The only other condition I developed which had the potential to be fatal was the eating disorder bulimia.
After a long time being coached, I finally left my marriage aged 60 and went on to build a deeply fulfilling new life.
Then, unexpectedly, aged 70, I met the love of my life. We’ve been together over 5 years and, today, I am the healthiest I have ever been. Plus I have none of the conditions usually associated with older people.
In case you think this is just (lucky) me, consider the Whitehall II study, which followed more than 10,000 people over 12 years. This landmark body of research confirmed that the link between toxic relationships, stress and health is real.
What to do about a poor personal relationship
The first thing you need to know if you’re in an unhappy relationship and you think your partner is selfish, thoughtless, lazy, a poor listener who doesn’t care about your feelings no matter how often you tell them is this:
You will never change your partner, no matter how hard you try – whether it’s telling them, nagging, complaining, manipulating, criticising or controlling.
I should know, I tried them all in my first marriage.
The only way for them to change is if they’re willing and able to do so. And for that to happen, you need to change the way you communicate with them. In other words, you need to communicate with them in such a way that they can hear you without becoming defensive.
But first, there’s something else you need to do.
You need to become really clear about what exactly is making you so unhappy, frustrated, angry and resentful. This is where lists come in.
The power of lists
Lists are really useful in helping you become clearer about what is true for you. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
List No. 1
Ask yourself, “What’s happening in my relationship which is making me unhappy and resentful?”
We often feel unhappy and resentful without being clear why so we focus on whatever is right in front of us – the squashed toothpaste tube, the perpetually raised toilet seat, the wet towels dropped on the floor, even forgetting our anniversary.
But ask yourself these questions,
- “What is underneath my anger, frustration or resentment?”
- “What is making me feel so angry, so hurt?”
- “How do I interpret what has or has not happened; what they did or did not say or do?”
- “How do these things make me feel?”
List No. 2
How would I like to feel instead?
List No. 3
If everything changed and I started feeling as I described it in list No. 2, which irritants would lose their sting so they wouldn’t matter so much?
At this point you’re in a better position to suggest a conversation.
I suggest you explain to your partner what you’ve been thinking about and that they might also be feeling angry and frustrated about some of your behaviours – perish the thought!
Arrange a time where there are no distractions.
Offer to let them go first – listen without interrupting. Whatever you do, do not defend or justify. The only thing you can do is to ask for clarification.
Now it’s your turn. Stick to the single most important item on your list. Otherwise, your partner will be overwhelmed and stop listening.
Discuss how you can address each other’s issues. The most powerful thing you can do, if you really care about your relationship is to offer to do something that your partner really cares about – without asking for anything in return.
Changing a relationship is a complex and, sometimes, painful process so, if you need more help, see at the bottom of this article how to connect with me for a free exploratory session.
There are many limiting beliefs that tend to make us stay in our comfort zone rather than step out and do something that might make a huge positive difference.
While stepping out of your comfort zone can feel far too risky there are a few things you could do something about once you’ve become aware of them.
In my introduction I listed some of the usual – really helpful – ideas that can make an immediate difference to your stress levels but there are other things you can do.
Take time out and do things that nourish you. This is vital to keep your emotional engine topped up. In other words, do something that you enjoy and/or makes you feel good.
And here’s something you need to notice.
As soon as you decide to do something for yourself, your limiting beliefs will kick in – also known as your negative inner critic. The one which is the most likely in this case is
“It’s selfish to do something for myself. It takes me away from looking after (John, Brenda, Richard or Yvonne).”
This belief tends to afflict more women than men.
The truth is that not only it is not selfish to do something that nourishes you and that you enjoy, it is absolutely essential as it is an important way to reduce stress and overwhelm.
If you feel trapped either in an unhappy relationship or in a variety of limiting beliefs that keep you firmly inside your comfort zone then contact me for a FREE conversation – either on my mobile (07903 795027) or by email (email@example.com)
Together we will figure out your options.