5 Tips to Cope
A lot of people are really struggling with uncertainty about the future. While we do not know what the future holds, we can stay focused on the present. Learn from the past, plan for the future, but stay in the present. Here are 5 tips to help cope with current day stress.
1) Know that all things change. Nothing stays static. If you are feeling overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or distressed remember that you won't feel this way forever. It will pass.
2) Find one or two anchors that bring you joy. My garden brings me joy. I work in it and sit in at least once a day. My friend likes to travel. Travel looks different right now, but she is going to local getaways instead of exotic far away destinations. The point is to not give up everything you love just because things feel different right now.
3) Keep connecting with other people. Keeping yourself cut off or isolated from others contributes to distress and anxiety. Figure out new ways to reach out and connect. This is another area that may look different at present. Be creative about it, but keep reaching out.
4) Nourish your spiritual side. Spirituality is not necessarily about religion. Connecting with anything outside of yourself is a spiritual experience. That could include nature, service, animals, church, prayer, meditation, the cosmos, etc... Find what works for you and nourish that part of who you are.
5) Look for the positive. There are many good things going on around us. Some of those are small and simple, but if you are looking for them you will find them. Some people like to record their positive experiences in gratitude journals or something similar. This is not disregarding the negative experiences. It is important that you acknowledge both the negative and positive, but our brains usually pick up on the negative easier. The positive can feel like more work at times. So, you have to want to deliberately find it. But it is there!
Keep moving forward. These are unprecedented times, but you are up for the challenge! You were never meant to be less than who you are! Stay with us, folks! We are going to make it through.
How to Communicate: Part 2
We all talk about listening and we throw the word around a lot, but what does it really mean to fully listen to someone? Many of us listen with the intent to speak. Meaning, we are constantly thinking of the next thing to say. Have you ever tried to listen only with the intent to understand? Listening is hearing and understanding what someone else is trying to tell you. It does not necessarily mean that you agree with them, but listening involves fully seeing and acknowledging the other person. Here are some specific ideas to help you become a better listener:
Pay attention to the messages you are conveying with your body language. Your body language can communicate respect and recognition to the person speaking, or it can suggest disregard and indifference. There is very little that hurts more than being disregarded by our partner. Looking at the person face to face and maintain eye contact is two good ways to show you are listening.
Validation is key! Validating someone’s experience is like putting salve on a wound. It won’t heal or fix problems, but it soothes and comforts. You validate someone when you acknowledge their feelings. It is saying, “I see you. I hear you. I am here.” You can validate someone verbally or by using body language. Some things that convey validation are a head shake, a gentle touch, or reflecting back the words they say and emotions they feel as if you were a mirror. For example, you could say, “You are really upset about the way your boss handled this situation. I can tell this is so frustrating to you”, or “You really want to talk to me about the kids. I know this is important to you.” Taking time to validate your partner doesn’t have to take a lot of effort, but it can have a big impact on nurturing your relationship.
Ask clarifying questions. This is a really good tool to use after validating. If you don’t understand speak up and ask. This is not an excuse to attack or belittle someone else because you are emotionally triggered. It is being curious with what the other person is trying to convey or how they are interpreting their experience. A clarifying question looks like this: “Can you help me understand why this is so important to you?” or “What else would you like me to know about this situation?” Clarifying is not a way to find solutions. It is understanding the inner world of the person speaking to you.
Give listening a try! See how you feel after using some of the tools listed above. Don’t fret if you make a mistake. Keep trying. You will get better the more you practice. Truly being present with other people can take time to cultivate into a habit, but is such a worthwhile skill if you want to maintain quality relationships.
How to Communicate: Part 1
Complaints about communication is a major reasons partners come to couples counseling. When couples say they want to work on communication I usually ask questions to clarify what that really means to them. Communication is NOT making other people do what you want them to do nor is it about changing others to fit expectations that may or may not be unrealistic. Generally speaking, most partners really just want to be understood and heard by each other. So, how does that work?
If you want to communicate better with your partner start by getting to know yourself. Most of the time we argue about nothing. Sometimes, it’s because we need attention or are trying to connect with each other in in negative ways. Spend some time thinking about what is it is you really want. One way to identify this is to examine what you are feeling. Feelings are flags or signals that give us information. Take some time to process and think about what you are feeling and what those feelings are trying to tell you.
After identifying your feelings think about how you can express those feelings in assertive ways. It is important for healthy communication that you own your own feelings. For example, “I feel hurt because you didn’t answer me back” is much more effective than “You are so rude for ignoring me.” In the first response you own your feelings and are taking responsibility for them. You are also inviting a discussion and encouraging your partner to clarify. In the second response you are making all sorts of assumptions that will more than likely be responded to with defensiveness and contempt.
If the discussion gets heated take a break. It’s ok to calm down and think through your feelings and wants as long as you come back to it later. When you come back to the discussion be very clear about what you want. Take time to clearly articulate your needs to your partner. Most of the time we subscribe to the myth that when we are connected we can read each other’s minds, and that is just not true. Saying, “I would really like it if you would text me back when I text you” will typically go over better than “Why are you so rude and disrespectful; I can’t ever get you to listen to me.” That doesn’t state what you really need and want. It’s just attacking.
John Gottman, a famous relationship researcher, is known for stating that there are always going to be times when we don’t agree or can’t come to a compromise. You are going to have some things that you can’t solve, because you are two different people with different backgrounds and ideas. However, making deliberate choices to recognize your own feelings and state your wants clearly can be very effective to increase positive communication with your partner. You can invite more connection and less divisiveness.