January 29, 2021
Last time I discussed the topic of stress, we focused on handling stress that day-to-day life throws at us. This week, I’d like to revisit that topic and go a bit deeper. How do we deal with the stress of others? Family members? Coworkers? Friends? Sometimes we can open ourselves up to taking on another person’s feelings when likely, you don’t have the mental energy to handle all of your own feelings. Mental energy and space is a huge factor in handling stress whether that comes from yourself or those you love. This is referred to as Second Hand Stress according to Orlando Health. In our last article, we discussed spilling our coffee. But what happens when somebody spills their coffee (or drink of choice) and it spills on to you? Your mind could go to anger. “My clothes are ruined!” or maybe you’re sad for them. They’re having such a hard time with life and they spilled their coffee. You might try to help them clean up the mess, or laugh with them before going and getting them a fresh cup.
Regardless of your initial reaction, they’re sure to have a reaction of their own. Maybe this seemingly small act is their breaking point. They cry or scream, feeling a lot of very strong, seemingly dramatic, emotions.
I want you to pause.
I want you to think. What would I want somebody to do for me? I’m sure if you were having a hard day and spilled coffee all over somebody, you’d hold your breath hoping for forgiveness. We have already discussed practicing grace with ourselves, and I want you to extend that to others. Not just when you’re in a good mood. Not only when you are feeling generous. Extend grace to those around you always. I can promise you it will be returned in ways you’d never expect. Second Hand Stress can have a huge impact on our own mental state, even subconsciously. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “Misery loves company,” and the same is true here. Sometimes a loved one will turn to you with a plate (and mind) full of stress, depression, or anxiety. It is important to learn how to protect yourself while still feeling sympathetic.
It can feel vulnerable to open up to somebody. I’m sure we’ve all been there. I don’t know of anybody who loves confrontation, and that’s natural. According to Very Well Mind: “The sympathetic nervous system is one branch of the autonomic nervous system (the other branch is the parasympathetic nervous system). The autonomic nervous system regulates the functions of organs like your heart, stomach, bladder, and intestines that take place without conscious effort.”
Now that we are aware that other’s mental state can directly affect ours, how do we help it? One solution that I’ve found to help is meditation. When you start each day with a clear mind and a calm heart, it is much easier to not feel overwhelmed when challenges present themselves. Meditation can seem overwhelming at first, so I recommend beginning small. When I started my meditation journey a few years ago, I was introduced to the 4-7-8 Breathing Method. This is a great starting point to get to know your body and what calm truly feels like for you. Once you are used to this, you can practice guided mediations. I use Headspace every day currently and am enjoying it. Once you establish a schedule, it will become routine. Even just practicing your breathing while you are doing housework, working, or driving can help. Every step of the way you will hopefully find new ways to calm yourself.
The next time a loved one spills their coffee all over you and your new shoes, take a breath. Shoes can be purchased again. Relationships can not. And try to remember, you are not obligated to take on anybody else’s emotions. Sometimes it isn’t your burden to carry. There is a difference between being sympathetic and taking on responsibility for others. This can start a spiral of thoughts and feelings. You may be asking yourself if this is somehow your fault, or if you didn’t do enough to help.
If you take one piece of advice from me this week, let it be this. The reaction of others has nothing to do with you. Let me explain. How many times have you found yourself overacting about something small and taking it out on the person closest to you? I imagine its several. And that’s normal! As long as you acknowledged your mistake and apologized, all good. No hard feelings. You probably weren’t actually upset with the person that you directed your anger towards.
Remember this when you are on the opposite side of the equation. Extend grace to yourself as well as those you love.
To learn more about guided meditation click here.
More Stress Resources:
Thanks for reading, Friends.
Veronica – Weekly Wellness