Filtering Relationship Stress Wisely

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In our world of instant messaging, cellphones and texting, being online much of the day, we tend to pick up the bad news of those we care about rather quickly. How do we cope?

Tribune News Service

Most of us want to offer emotional support to other people. But, do you sometimes wonder how you'll keep your own sanity?

For example, maybe you're awake all night worrying about your boss' threat to fire you. But the next morning, a close friend calls you to unload her bad medical report.

On top of this, you might get a call from your brother. He wants a loan quickly, because he needs a medical procedure and he doesn't have insurance.

"I really was close to screaming with my own stress," says a friend of ours we'll call Patty, "when a ton of bricks came flying my way. Two of my adult children announced they were getting a divorce. They both wanted to know if I could help with the grandchildren!"

In our world of instant messaging, cellphones and texting, being online much of the day, we tend to pick up the bad news of those we care about rather quickly. How do we cope?

These tips can help:

-Get the facts. For example, just because someone "might" get a divorce or "might have cancer" does not mean the worst-case scenario will materialize. Stay cool until you know more.

-Help the other person stay calm. If your friend is unloading her misery on you, just listen. Take in the facts but don't overreact. Remind her that staying calm is the best way to take productive steps. Don't jump on an emotional bandwagon with her.

-Figure out the pain of other people. For example, if your boss is threatening to fire you, face up to your boss' worries. Ask him or her for a face-to-face meeting. Say, "I'm here to listen and help figure these problems out." If your daughter's husband wants a divorce, ask him and her to talk things over with you. Acknowledge his pain to see if there's hope.

-Help a stressed person find resources. For example, if your brother needs medical help and has no insurance, reach out to social agencies and hospital staff in your area. Help your brother stay centered while you calmly look for available resources.

"I've learned to be supportive of the other person, but I don't have to fix their problems," says a nurse we'll call Charlene. "I can offer advice, phone numbers, and emotional support. But, I don't have to let myself get dragged into drama."

Charlene is right. None of us can actually do certain things for other people. They must take care of it.

Don't waste your time on trying to fix problems for lazy people, either. Many people have absolutely no intention of calling anyone, signing up for an exercise class, or following the health rules required for a diabetic. Accept this.

"I am not going to suffer for the laziness that other people have," says a medical doctor we'll call Jim.

Jim says he gives clear advice to his patients. He writes everything down. He provides resources.

"But," says Jim. "It's not my calling to baby adults who want to lie back and do nothing. They keep cramming carbohydrates in their mouths and wonder why they're fat. They keep staying in bed until noon and wonder why they can't find time to exercise!"

Part of lowering our stress is to turn problems back over to their rightful owners. While we can help them focus, it's often their job to manage the stress. ___ (Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at www.usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)

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