How to Manage Stress in Relationship Communication: Keep Calm with Scientific Stress Management
Not enough time to exercise, boss pushing for work to be completed, children are loud, bills to pay, shopping to be done, housework to do, partner asking for your help. To top it all off you’re suppose to be nice to people by communicating effectively with them in a confrontation? Yeah right!
Why Stress Makes Communication Difficult
You find it hard to communicate in stressful moments. So do I. There’s a reason why it is hard to listen and not yell in tough situations that all relationships face. Science proves it is near impossible for you to communicate well when under stress.
The body experiences a primal response that agitates people in conflict. A stressed guy will tense his face, breathe shallowly, raise his voice, respond faster, and not think clearly. If you controlled these body responses, you would not be stressed. Not only does tension hurt your communication, it creates a viral effect. Your stress infects those around you.
Conflict is probably synonymous for you with stress. To be in conflict with someone is to be stressed. For me, I must have my mental and physical tension under control so I can communicate effectively to improve my relationships. If I do not manage my stress, it inevitably gets the better of me, as it will to you.
Stress makes us mentally ill. A psychiatrist could diagnose you with depression, mania, psychosis, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness when you are stressed. The difference between you and someone diagnosed with one of these mental health problems is the time you and they spend in those states. A person diagnosed with depression feels down for most of the day while you may temporarily be depressed only when you are under loads of stress. No wonder it’s difficult to communicate well when stressed.
Fight, Flight, or Freeze Responses in Conversation
Stress in conflict evokes the fight, flight, or freeze responses. An argument, disagreement, or confrontation elevates tension as you yell, withdraw, stand confused. You do things you later regret.
Aggressive behavior towards another person temporarily feels okay, but then reality kicks in as you feel even more stressed from hurting the person. When you try your best to hide tension, your suppressed emotions eat at you to later hurt your relationships.
A psychiatrist could diagnose you with a series of mental illness when stressed. No wonder it’s difficult to communicate well when stressed.
When under stress, your communication style will change in response to the situation. You can go from a cool, collected person one moment, yet when a stressful situation impinges your tolerable threshold your calm style can quickly shift to aggressive or submissive behaviors. The behavior you fall back on in stressful situations is the one you found comfortable in the past that offered momentary protection.
When someone surpasses their tolerable degree of tension, telling them to get their act together or to communicate better, does not work. It won’t work for you either. It’s human extinct to block external factors, such as other people’s feelings, and listen to internal ones as your interpersonal communication skills decline. Better communication in intense conflict is a matter of managing stress otherwise it is next to impossible to deal with conflict.
“What Did I Say?” – Memory Loss and Other Dangers of Stress
Stress motivates us to take action, but it too often works against us. We yell, withdraw, or shut-down in tense communication. Our bodies produce cortisol, known as the “stress hormone”, to compel us into action. Without this double-edged hormone, we would accomplish little. If you are completely relaxed in conflict and untrained in good communication skills, you could overlook the problematic issue or give an unsympathetic response.
Signs of Stress
- Poor judgment
- Frequent worrying
- Aches and pains
- Inconsistent eating or sleeping
Research has shown cortisol to improve cognitive functioning. Too much cortisol, however, causes impairment. If you have ever forgotten what you said in a verbal fight, cortisol has literally shut off short-term memory. Cortisol obtrudes neurotransmitters that are chemicals responsible for communication between neurons and other cells. That is why you can memorize a speech 50 times and forget it when you present it. A stressful crisis temporarily results in a blank mind.
Stanford neuroscience professor Robert Sapolsky found that cortisol also causes long-term memory loss. When the receptors for cortisol located in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory) gets flooded overtime, it melts like microwaved Swiss cheese.
The affects of stress are too numerous to list here. From rapid aging of the body and heart disease, to poor sleep and skin conditions, the effects are real. You need techniques to manage your stress; not just for your communication, but also for your health.
Stress Reduction Tips: 9 Key Lessons for Intelligent Stress Management
We need to attack stress deep within our neurology where it originates. Thinking positively or talking yourself through stress isn’t going to reduce tension. I have developed nine effective ways and techniques to manage stress you can use to keep calm in stressful moments so you can communicate better and live a happier life:
1. Prevention is the best cure. The best technique to deal with stress is to stop it before it begins. Create the appropriate measures, boundaries, and strategies to interrupt rising tensions. If the tension between two people rises beyond a safe level, one strategy is to pause, walk away, punch a pillow, and take slow deep breathes before commencing the conversation. You can incorporate other stress management techniques listed below into your plan to be more calm in conflict.
2. Accept your feelings. Never tell yourself you shouldn’t feel what you do. Do not say, “I shouldn’t be feeling stressed right now.” You must accept your feelings otherwise they will persist or repress into forms that severely affect your mental health and ability to effectively communicate. When you accept your stress, you move forward to taking personal responsibility.
3. Accept responsibility for how you feel. It is tempting and easy to release stress on other people. Do not treat people inappropriately. If you treat people in a way they don’t want to be treated, you make them tense, which they will be happy to put back on you.
Blame makes you more stressed because anxiety is related to events within your control. What is beyond your reach makes you anxious. If you blame your shouting spouse for making you angry, your anxiety and stress will remain because you have little influence over your spouse’s voice.
When you accept responsibility, you eliminate blame. You live in truth. You do not become a victim of others. You take control of your feelings. Your new levels of responsibility cause you to do something about how you feel.
If someone causes you stress, address the person about the problem. Explain to them how you feel, why you feel that way, and what can be done to fix the problem. Be problem-oriented; not person-oriented.
4. Breathe. When tension in your body rises, you automatically take shallow breathes. This is one of the first stages prior to full fight, flight, or freeze responses that hurt effective communication. When your stress levels rise, take several deep, slow breathes and you will instantly reduce your stress levels.
Accept stress. Never tell yourself you shouldn’t feel what you do.
5. Take time out. A walk away is guaranteed to refresh your mind. Don’t call for the travel agent to book a Caribbean cruise though, because a temporary break is all you need. Go for a walk or workout at the gym. Be active to release hormones that counter stress. Exercise is the body’s emotional reset button.
Absence from the situation that created the tension takes your mind off the problem. It gives you clearer thoughts to attack the problem. Be sure to address the problem after your time out otherwise you will only temporarily avoid the real issue.
6. Be flexible. Stress is like the sunrise and sunset. It is inevitable. It is a part of your human body. Therefore, the best way to deal with it is to change your behavior and communication.
Be soft; not brittle. Recognize signals of stress by reading people’s verbal and nonverbal language, then adjust yourself accordingly. Be flexible by going a bit out of your way for them to assist their temporary needs and wants. Don’t run around the world for them, but do be more aware and respondent of them. This can lead you to less stress.
7. Discuss the problem afterwards. Combine this tip with the prior tip of remaining flexible and you have two keys to manage tense people. You need to address the problem following the stressful moment otherwise destructive, repetitious behavior occurs. Also, if there is someone you know that finds it difficult to manage their stress in communication, you can refer them to this article by clicking the “ShareThis” link at the bottom of this article.
Eliminate these four common substances that stress the body to give your body the best chance of relaxation in difficult times:
- Alcohol: In the short-term alcohol may relax; in the long-term, it can damage the body. Excessive amounts disrupt sleep.
- Nicotine: Another temporary fix that causes long-term damage. Though a smoke may relax you, it raises your heart rate, creates shallow breathes, and causes additional harm that far outweighs its quick benefits.
- Caffeine: Stay away from this stimulant. Substitute coffee for a drink containing less or zero caffeine like tea.
- Sugar: Foods high in sugar spike glucose levels. Eat low GI foods like wholegrain breads instead of white bread.
8. Ask others about your responses in stressful moments. You are to do this because you cannot provide an accurate self-assessment when stressed. Your short-term memory loss makes it impossible to recall information.
Awareness of your behavior can trigger a pattern interrupt. If the person says you consistently yell when stressed, raising your voice can trigger self-awareness that your stress needs to reduce before the conversation continues.
9. Listen to binaural beats. Discovered by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove in 1839, binaural beats describes the low-frequency pulsations in the brain created by different frequencies played into each ear. The brain integrates the two sounds to form a third sound that relaxes the mind.
In terms of stress, binaural beats is a miracle. A correctly made binaural beat will scientifically make your brain produce alpha waves, which is the same brain wave you have when resting. That wonderful feeling you have when lying in bed almost asleep can be replicated by binaural beats. Imagine how better your life would be by simply putting on a headphone the next time you feel stressed as you enter a relaxed state at will!
If you are after binaural beats, Paul Kleinmeulman has a good program that includes a series of binaural beats for different purposes. You can check out his program here, where you will learn more about the proven science behind binaural beats, which can make you motivated, sleep better, intensify your focus, learn efficiently, and keep relaxed.
Conflict does not need to be synonymous with stress. Neither has to make you miserable. Stress can be a good thing when managed with the above tips.
Your body experiences stress because it is threatened in conflict. Do something about it. You don’t want to feel the same way in a fight as you do when watching the Simpsons. Harness this primal response and you will be communicating more effectively in your next confrontation.
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to https://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/