It is true! Stressful situations are unavoidable in life!
No matter how much we might try to avoid stressful situations, it is impossible as so much is outside of our control.
So what do we do?
When someone is unreasonable? Not willing to engage in a conversation with us? Threatening us?
There is a strategy!
Instead of reacting in a very emotional way, running away, and hiding or fighting till we drop, we need a concrete plan.
In this post, I want to share a concrete example and a strategy that I used to address effectively a highly stressful situation in my personal life.
Recently, a very delicate and intense situation arose in my life.
I was shocked at how much the situation affected me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
As a therapist, I could recognize that I was having obsessive thoughts.
Long story short,
My 90-year-old grandmother is sharing her flat with another woman. The flat neighbor, over the past few years, has changed significantly and became aggressive and verbally abusive towards my grandma.
I wanted to protect my grandmother from all stress and harm. My initial reaction was of overwhelming anger.
What did my anger mean?
Anger is an emotional response that gets triggered when a loved one or we are threatened.
Anger is a very natural reaction in stressful situations.
However, the intensity of my anger was clouding my judgment significantly.
Side-effects of my anger,
I began having an obsessive fantasy of how I would have a conversation with the hostile neighbor, what I would say and do if she responded angrily.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the more time passed, the more intense my anger and associated thoughts got.
Worse of all,
I became aware that in my fantasy, I began myself to respond in hostile and aggressive manner escalating the situation.
Imagine my shock,
Here I am, a therapist who helps people master assertiveness skills is caught up in an intense anger obsession for five days.
I was snapped back to self-awareness when towards the day 5, I started to feel helpless, hopeless and began showing signs of depression.
Once I became aware,
It was time for me to refresh assertiveness skills for myself.
I faced the truth that no matter our backgrounds and professions, as human beings we all can get caught up in our feelings especially when a lot is at stake.
I want to share with you today, three concrete strategies that have helped me address this and other stressful situations.
They work the best when are used together in the sequence described below.
Why use it? Benefits?
– Gain control over your feelings and thoughts.
– Move from feeling helpless and overwhelmed to feeling empowered.
– Become clear about your goal and have steps planned out to achieve it.
3 Easy Strategies for Dealing with Stressful Situations:
1. Acknowledge and accept your feelings. Both, surface and deep ones.
While being so caught up in my obsessive fantasy of having a conversation with the neighbor, I forgot to acknowledge and accept my feelings.
First and obvious one was feeling of anger.
Towards day 4, it was anger bordering on rage.
But that wasn’t all,
Anger is only a surface feeling. As I mentioned, a feeling we get when a loved one or we are threatened in some way.
Anger arises as a way of coping with a threat/danger.
Naturally, when we are threatened, we can experience anxiety and fear for our or a loved one’s welfare.
What about my fear?
I was scared of the confrontation when talking with the unpredictable and hostile neighbor.
And I was also scared about the consequences of my conversation for my grandma’s situation.
What if I will make things worse?
Once I took a moment to acknowledge and accept the feelings, I felt a dramatic decrease in their intensity. Apart from my subjective experience, there is scientific research that shows that this simple step can take an edge off of any feeling.
Here is how to accept and acknowledge:
“I feel strong anger because I want to protect myself and my grandma. I am also scared because I don’t know how the neighbor will react to me or to my grandma. It feels like so many things are outside of my control”.
You can either say it to yourself or write it down and repeat it as much as you need.
2. Know what outcome you want to achieve.
When dealing with my stressful situations, it is easy to get distracted by over focusing on the other person.
In my case,
I spent so much time thinking about what the neighbor might think, do or how she might react.
If I am honest, I also was preoccupied with thoughts of justice and revenge, which were very destructive and unproductive.
Took my focus and brain power away from what I really wanted to achieve: a peaceful environment for my grandmother and a key access for her social worker, which the neighbor denied for months.
Once I zeroed in on that, I felt a great sense of relief.
How to focus?
Following acknowledgment of the feelings, it is important to refocus on yourself and identify your goal for resolving the stressful situations that you face.
Ask yourself some of the following questions:
What would I like to achieve by this conversation?
How would a successful outcome look like?
3. Clarify what is in your control.
Again, looking back on my situation, I obsessively focused on trying to predict a reaction from the neighbor.
I was trying to think of all sorts of things she might say and come up with responses to them.
Lies in that the more I am focused her reactions, the more helpless and disoriented I feel as her reactions were outside of my control.
The strategy is
To gain back control by focusing on things that we can influence and are in charge of.
Doing so will move us from feeling helpless and overwhelmed to feeling empowered.
In my situation,
I shifted my thoughts away from how I might respond to the neighbor’s unpredictable behavior, to how I can prepare for the conversation.
I realized that as an advocate for my grandma, I needed to learn the legal right that my grandma has.
As a result, I became focused on researching this information by reaching out to a lawyer.
Armed with the legal information, I knew how to proceed regardless of the neighbor’s reaction.
I also realized that my feelings and thoughts are in my control.
I have some degree of control over when the conversation takes place and who is present.
Acknowledging my anxiety about this conversation, I have asked a friend to accompany me to the meeting.
For your situation,
Ask yourself some of the following questions:
What aspects of the situation are in my control?
What control do I have over the other person’s reactions? Thoughts? Feelings?
What control do I have over my reactions? Thoughts? Feelings?
What information do I need to gather to feel more in control?
What is the best time and place for me to have this conversation?
Who can support me while I am having this conversation or dealing with the situation? Relative? Friend? Counsellor?
The best part?
These three strategies are absolutely free, easy and quick to use!
I would love to hear from you about how you dealt with a difficult situation in life.
What strategies have worked for you? I look forward to reading your comments below.
Learning your assertiveness skills with me:
If you feel that the tips mentioned above are not enough or if you are finding it challenging to apply them in your life, consider working with a coach or a therapist.
For a limited time, I am accepting new clients!
To explore if my therapy approach is right for you, please book your free consultation here.
Your Global Therapist, Counselor & Coach