If you look online or ask around about effective strategies for stress management, you’ll find recommendations about what to eat, what to think, and what to drink. There are tips for physical fitness, connection to others, and relaxation.
All of these are important for a healthy lifestyle. Paying attention to what we need here helps us to cultivate equanimity. Most commonly, I am asked what people can do to strengthen their connection to others.
Emotional connection is a staple for stress management. Most of us thrive with a sense of belonging. We need a place to go to feel supported, understood, and appreciated, a place where we can celebrate and commiserate.
And, still, sometimes we find that the very stress we are looking to manage seems to stem directly from our connections with others. When something that usually brings us such stability starts to feel like it’s getting off kilter, it makes sense that the rest of our world experiences disturbance.
So what happens when our relationships stop feeding us in the same way and we notice a shift in tension?
If we’re in any relationship long enough, it will encounter all sorts of changes. People move, get new jobs, get new partners (with whom others don’t always get along), have kids, lose loved ones, and experience a myriad of other game-changers. Our capabilities and limitations fluctuate.
Here are some go-to anchors you can use that will help your relationship weather the storm so that the occasional rough waters will serve to strengthen your bond.
First things first- be mindful of your energy. If you tend to overcommit (to anything/anyone) be curious about how this impacts your energy source. Overcommitting doesn’t have to mean that you’re busy every second of every day; it simply means that you have signed on for more than your limits allow. This happens for many reasons, and it effects relationships. When you overcommit, you might start to feel resentful at others who want to spend time with you or at the very things that you (over-)committed to in the first place. Be honest with yourself about how much you can take on without feeling exhausted and overextended.
Up next is to pay attention to your boundaries. Similar to being honest with yourself about what you can realistically commit to is the honesty you engage in identifying how you like to be in relationship. How do you like to be treated? What do you expect out of your relationships? What makes you feel the most connected? Some people are satisfied with relationships in which there isn’t a lot of contact. When there is contact the bond feels as strong as ever. For others, this kind of relationship isn’t enough; they need more contact. Then there’s the content of the relationship; some people prefer a lot of deep conversation with their loved ones while others prefer not to (or for whom it doesn’t feel essential). When you honor your boundaries and are clear about them, you’re less likely to feel resentful toward the other person.
A third way to maintain and manage a relationship is to engage respect, make it your best friend. Respect a loved one’s time, boundaries, choices, struggles, feelings, and wants/needs. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with something that goes against your code; it means that you understand that this is a part of their process, regardless of whether you would behave the same. It doesn’t have to be clear to you.
Lastly, accept them. Accept the ones you love however, they are. Again, it doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them about every choice. It means that you are aware of their limits and flaws and choose to be in a relationship with them anyway. And when their limits conflict with your boundaries, be honest. Accepting someone as they are isn’t synonymous with sacrificing your needs. You can exist together as whole people, flaws and strengths and all.
Love and Be Loved,