Tag Archives: overwhelmed

Communicating Effectively under Stress:
“This is horrible!”

"Enlightenment" Dalai Lama by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Enlightenment” Dalai Lama by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

Fear and anger are signals that warn you to pay attention to your physical surroundings, your situation or your relationships. Appropriate fear and anger often mean that you may be in danger or are being treated unfairly.

Becoming overwhelmed with emotion is counterproductive to taking appropriate action or communicating with others. So when you experience fear or anger, take a deep breath, and then switch over to your intuition and rational mind to determine what to do next.

Calm down

It is very important to calm down and get centered before you speak. Otherwise your anxiety, hostility or panic will be ineffective and infectious. Your tone of voice and sarcasm will betray you and put the other person on the defensive and prevent you from resolving the situation.

You may need to talk with someone else or take a walk alone to calm down. It may take a few minutes or it may take hours to feel balanced and calm enough to be able to have an effective conversation. In serious situations, such as infidelity or a breakup, it may take days or weeks to get enough handle over your feelings to have an effective conversation.

If someone wants to talk immediately but you need time to feel in control, it is critical that you say that you need to calm down first and to do so. Give a time frame: “I need some time to calm down. Let’s talk in five minutes/after dinner/tomorrow.” Otherwise, if you simply walk away, the other person may feel rejected, abandoned, or ignored and become angry, which is not helpful.

If the other person says, “What do you mean? Let’s talk about it now,” just firmly say, “That’s not going to be productive. I need some time.” Stand firm and don’t be swayed.

Tone of voice

Tone of voice and body language are more important than words. Some research says that they account for 80% of what is communicated. They can convey positive intention, self-control, respect, and self-respect, which will make it more likely that others will listen to you. Or they can convey weakness, loss of control, and desperation, which can freak people out or put them on the defensive. Even if you are extremely angry, it is more powerful and effective to show self-control than to let your anger loose.

No judgment

Avoid negative judgment, name-calling, and expressing yourself in a way that makes the other person feel attacked. Keep yourself from exaggerating or listing all the bad things the other person has ever done. Then it more likely that the other person will actually listen to you.

You’ll have a more productive conversation if you say,  “I waited for 20 minutes. What happened?” than if you exclaim: “You drive me crazy the way you are always late. You are so rude!”

Feelings

Some people tend to control others rather than simply state their own feelings because they don’t want to seem weak or self-oriented. Yet a direct declaration of one’s feelings is powerful, not weak. Rather than attacking the other person, state your own feelings: “I was worried.” “I felt angry.” “I’m disappointed.” “I was sad.” “I felt frustrated.” When you state a feeling, no one can reasonably argue with it.

Feelings are not judgments such as, “I feel that you are selfish.” That’s a negative judgment pretending to be a feeling.

It is important not to become identified with or immersed in what you are feeling. If you are sad, you can show a little sadness, but don’t fall apart. If you are angry, express the fact that you are angry, but don’t become ballistic.

People who are able to express their emotions without being overwhelmed by them garner more respect and empathy from others. They are also more capable of dealing effectively with the problems being signaled.

Desires and needs

Express what you desire, value, or need. “I would like more intimacy.” “I want a trusting relationship.” “I need support.” “I would like to have more time alone each day.” “I want to pursue my passions.”

Some people don’t like to express their needs because they don’t want to appear needy. Yet a direct declaration what you value and want is less manipulative than using blame or guilt trips. Such openness also supports the other person’s autonomy, allowing the other person to choose his or her actions freely.

Needs and desires are general, not tied to a particular person. For example, “I need you to love me more” should be replaced with “I want to be in a relationship with someone who really loves me and expresses it.”

No one can argue against your desires or needs even if they might not fulfill them.

Make a specific positive request

  • Specific: General requests such as “Support me” or “Clean your room” are not nearly as effective as a specific request such as “Would you help me pay the bills tonight?” or “Would you be willing to put your clothes lying on the floor inside your closet?”
  • Positive: Beware of saying something like “If you’d just get up off the couch and help around the house once in a while.” This reeks of hostile criticism.
  • Request: A request is not a threat or a demand. By making a request, you offer the other person the opportunity to do something nice for you. Rather than a scolding session, where everyone feels lousy, it can be a win-win situation, in which someone will likely help you and you will feel appreciative.

Transform the relationship

If you make repeated reasonable requests and another person repeatedly refuses to accommodate you, that is the other person’s prerogative. However, you should probably change your expectations of the other person and in some cases consider changing the scope of the relationship.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Anger: ‘I have a right to be angry.’”

Watch “Expressing Anger Effectively.”

Read “Random Thoughts from So What I Really Meant.”

Random Thoughts from So What I Really Meant

"Wisdom of Laughter" — Einstein by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Wisdom of Laughter” — Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Passion

Passion is the feeling of exhilaration in the face of mystery. It arises from the heat generated by the intermingling of two people pursuing their own individual passions. So if partners sacrifice their own personal passions, interests, and friends for the sake of their relationship, that relationship will probably lose its passion.

Jealousy

A jealous partner may have experienced abandonment in his or her life and be easily triggered. Getting angry won’t help the situation. Be considerate and reassuring, but don’t start constricting your life to pander to the jealous partner’s fears, if they are unreasonable. Tell the jealous person that the suspicions are hurtful and are causing you to feel defensive and suggest focusing on his or her positive desires instead.

Feeling controlled

Those who are susceptible to being controlled need to stop fearing the other person’s reactions. That doesn’t mean becoming confrontational. You simply cannot let the fear of another person’s anger dictate your willingness to stand up for your values and needs. Calm, candid, honest communication is best to avoid developing a relationship based on fear and resentment.

Perfectionism

There is no reason you can’t have both the desire to excel and the ability to accept and enjoy the moment, which may be less than perfect. Laughter is much better for your health and your relationships than the anxiety of having to control for the perfect outcome. You rarely hear about the perfect dinner party, but an over-spiced, smoke-filled, ridiculously-problematic dinner tale gets a lot of mileage in laughter-filled stories long after the smoke clears.

Stress

Focus primarily on difficulties you can do something about. Taking control requires taking positive steps to deal with challenges, not ignoring the problems, suppressing the stress, or allowing yourself to be consumed by stress.

Taking control includes prioritizing situations in your life, changing your situation, and changing your perspective, and, just as important, relieving the mounting tension in healthy ways such as exercising, relaxing with friends or family, and developing a sense of humor. In cases where you cannot take physical action, you can take action by consciously changing your attitude and the way you think about the situation.

Difficult times

Feelings of fear and worry are important signals meant to get our attention in times of danger. Once we are alerted to difficulties, however, we need to harness fear and worry in favor of our personal power. The most useful powers in times of difficulty include courage, love, and clear thinking.

Experiencing vulnerability, including fear and sadness, is a crucial part of being able to feel empathy and love. However, we should not allow feelings and vulnerability to take over and engulf us in panic. Worry and anxiety are contagious and paralyzing. It is the power of our capabilities, our thinking, our courage, and our optimism that can best handle the inevitable difficulties of life.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Watch “Pursuing your passions in relationship.”

Watch “How to Deal with Controlling People.”

Family visits:
“I feel overwhelmed thinking about my family visiting next week.”

"Orchestra Assemblage" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When facing a family visit, people often have ambivalent feelings, wanting to make everyone happy, yet dreading the work and potential personal conflicts that loom ahead.

Expectations

You may feel obligated to put everyone up at your house or prepare the meals because you think that’s what is expected of you. While giving to others can be deeply fulfilling, it’s best to give at a level where you can do so wholeheartedly and lovingly rather than resentfully. You don’t want to slip into martyrdom.

Instead of succumbing to what you think is expected, decide what you are willing to do and state so up front.

If, for example, you are happy to prepare one meal or one dish, graciously invite everyone for that meal or to a potluck. “I invite you all for dinner on Friday night. On Saturday, we can go out,” or “You’re on your own.” “You can pick up your favorite breakfast groceries at the store down the street.”

People like to know what is expected in the way of itinerary, sleeping arrangements, kids’ rules, differing holiday traditions, and dogs. If you clarify expectations and don’t promise too much, you can be giving without becoming exasperated and resentful. When you communicate clearly ahead of time, people are less likely to be disappointed because they understand the game plan and your expectations.

Saying “No.”

If your relatives or friends tend to ignore your requests, hints, and desires, or are generally unpleasant, then there’s no need to accommodate them with meals or housing, unless you are willing and able to live up to Mother Theresa’s philosophy: “People are generally irrational, unreasonable and selfish. Love them anyway.”

You can say “no” while still communicating warm-heartedly. For example, “That’s not a good weekend for us to have visitors. We would love to see you though if you come into town. Call us and we’ll meet for coffee/a drink/lunch.”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Dreading intrusive questions at family gatherings: “It’s none of your business!”

“My life feels out of control.”

 "Peace - Buddha" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Peace – Buddha” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

If you are facing life challenges, such as a break up, illness, tragic choices made by family members, or financial distress, your life can feel out of control. As a result, you can feel helpless and powerless, and become anxious, overwhelmed, and depressed.

There are many things we don’t have control over in our lives and many more that we have very little control over. While we may not be able to change our external circumstances, what we can change is our internal perspective, and this can make all the difference in the world.

It may be difficult to change negative thought patterns, let go of grudges, and stop complaining about our circumstances, all of which bring us a certain comfort. Yet with practice, we can control our thoughts and change our perspective. We can admit to our negative thinking, understand it, and then move on.

Viktor Frankl, who survived the most dire circumstances in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Therefore, we should focus on what we usually do have control over. We often can determine the following:

1. how we spend our time,
2. whom we spend our time with,
3. what we read,
4. what we think about,
5. how to view the events in our lives,
6. what we learn from our relationships,
7. how to respond to other people—their love, their anger, their expectations,
8. the words and tone we use,
9. where we spend our time.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

~Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

by Alison Poulsen, PhD



“I feel frustrated and under stress a lot.”

"Tranquility" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Physical health and balance

First make sure that your lifestyle is healthy. Lack of sleep, too much sugar, alcohol, drugs or medications, lack of exercise, as well as physical disorders can cause stress hormones to get out of control. Revitalizing your physical health strengthens your ability to handle stressful situations.

Expectations, thoughts, and worries

Much of our stress and anxiety results from dwelling too much on our expectations—negative and positive. We live in fear of our negative expectations coming true.

“He’s going to be angry.”

“I won’t be able to pay the rent.”

“I’m never good enough.”

We feel let down when our positive expectations are not met.

“If I were thinner, he would love me.”

“If I had gotten the promotion, I would be happy.”

Our thoughts cause much of our physical and emotional stress. Imagine seeing your new boyfriend with another woman. The bitter disappointment felt in your body reflects your thoughts—that he’s cheating on you or that he’s no longer interested in you and too selfish to be honest with you.

Later he calls to invite you over to meet his sister who’s in town visiting. Suddenly all the stress vanishes and you feel relief and joy, simply because your thoughts have changed. Or perhaps he really was cheating, but many months or years later, your life takes a wonderful turn and you realize how fortunate you were to leave that relationship.

Refocus your thoughts

If you could learn to think differently, much of your stress and unhappiness would vanish. If you could live your life without wishing things were not as they are and without fearing the worst, you would be more fully present to the moment and not overcome with fears about the future.

Letting go of your expectations does not mean that you shouldn’t have personal goals, that you shouldn’t have boundaries and consequences for bad behavior in your relationships, or that you shouldn’t be prepared for potential risks in the future. It means that you should stop trying to control aspects of your life that you cannot control.

Make room for the unexpected

When you actively expect the unexpected, you can more easily handle whatever comes your way with equanimity. If you are over-scheduled, then whenever something unexpected occurs, you will experience frustration. If you have no space in your life for the unexpected, then when someone calls, drops by, needs you, or when you forget something, it will cause unnecessary agitation.

Avoiding over-scheduling your life will give you room to accept the inevitable unforeseen challenges, opportunities, and adventures that life offers us. It also allows you time to relax, enjoy, be creative, and engage with other people without feeling rushed.

Accept reality

Try and enjoy or at least be accepting of whatever happens. If there’s a traffic jam on the freeway on your way to the airport, you’ll either make the plane or you won’t. You might as well make the most of the time you have in your car rather than panic.
Some of the worst disasters turn out to make the best stories. Some of the most unwanted outcomes lead to great adventures and opportunities. The more quickly you can accept the inevitable, the less time you lose fighting reality.

When you become willing to accept reality, you can base your decisions on what is rather than on what you wish were true or what you dread might be the case.

Embrace some stress

It turns out that having a moderate amount of stress as well as some control over your life is healthier and results in more happiness than having no stress or no control in your life. Thus, the goal should not be to eliminate stress but to focus primarily on things you can do something about. Taking control requires taking positive steps to deal with challenges. So, do not ignore problems, suppress stress, or allow yourself to be consumed by stress.

Taking control includes prioritizing your life and changing your situation. Equally important is relieving your stress in healthy ways such as exercising, finding a way to laugh, and relaxing with friends or family. In situations where there is no course of action to take, try slow deep breathing and consciously change your attitude and perspective about the situation.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

“I am overwhelmed by worry.”

"Stars of Valor" by Mimi Stuart © after Thomas Franklin

“Stars of Valor”
by Mimi Stuart © after Thomas Franklin

Fear as a signal – it can be lifesaving

Fear is a healthy emotional response that alerts you to potential danger. But when you allow fear to turn into extreme anxiety or panic, you can no longer respond to danger in an effective way. When fear and anxiety take control of your life you can become debilitated.

Three negative consequences when fear turns to panic:

1. Excessive fear leaves you vulnerable and is ineffective

Extreme anxiety can lead to mental paralysis or physical illness. It also prevents you from being taken seriously by others. Imagine a doctor, lawyer, or military leader who expresses extreme anxiety in facing an emergency.

2. Anxiety can be contagious

Extreme anxiety is infectious, particularly among emotionally-fused people, often causing others to become more anxious. Emotional fusion is the dissolution of boundaries between people, which can cause anxiety to become extremely contagious. Emotional fusion occurs when people do not function with emotional independence. For example, one person’s anger or anxiety causes the other person to react with the same emotion or to polarize to a position of having no concern. This extreme reactivity takes away from productive problem-solving.

3. The anxious person become the problem

When you allow anxiety to overwhelm you, it may cause others to respond to you rather than focus on the problem at hand. In order to effectively handle difficult or emergency situations, you have to learn to keep things in perspective and control your emotions. Only with a calm and rational approach can constructive and deliberate action be taken.

Differentiation

To resolve the anguish caused by emotional fusion, individuals need to become more highly-differentiated, that is, emotionally separate, and therefore, less reactive.

Differentiation will —

1. permit you to get deeply involved with a problem or with another person without becoming overwhelmed by anxiety,

2. eliminate the need to withdraw from or control a situation to modulate your own emotional well-being, and

3. give a modicum of peace of mind in knowing that you best influence others through your presence of mind and composure rather than through fear or emotional coercion.

Even if only one person becomes less reactive, the ability to handle difficulties will improve. Ironically, if you really care, keeping a cool head is the best way to help others and yourself through difficult times.

How to handle fear

When you imagine a downward spiral of catastrophic consequences, you are likely to become overwhelmed, panic-stricken, despondent, and mentally paralyzed. If you become overwhelmed with worst-case expectations, the situation will likely spiral out of control and your worst-case prophecy is more likely to come true. Thus, it is important to redirect your focus as follows:

1. Engage the rational part of your mind to address the challenge as well as to alleviate the panic.

2. Figure out what you have control over and take appropriate action.

3. Imagine what the worst possible outcome could be. Then imagine the most constructive and self-possessed way to accept the worst consequences. Once you prepare for the worst, know that reality will probably not be as bad as you fear.

4. Continue to engage in other parts of your life — your work, family, friends and interests — in order to buoy your strength, be a good role model, and enjoy the blessings that you still possess.

While it is important to be prepared for potential dangers in the world, we should strive for a balance between fear and hope, viewing the world with an informed awareness and equanimity.

How do we handle difficult times?

Life will present us with challenges. The best way to handle difficulties is to face them head on, while maintaining our dignity and having faith in ourselves. Above all, we must remember that we do not have control over other people nor over all situations, but we do have control over our actions, words, demeanor, and perspective, and how we respond in a given situation.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD