Are your relationships a source of sustenance or stress?


Are your relationships a source of strength or stress?

Without a doubt. The relationships in your life can be your greatest source of strength and support or the most pure poison in the form of stress and the constant struggle to make them work.

And it occurred to me (yet again) over a dinner recently in a scene which could have been scripted from one of my favourite TV series (Sex and the city), as I had dinner with 2 other health care professional friends, just how much of an impact our relationships have on our health.

What started out as a conversation about our goals, became a conversation about our struggles with certain people in our lives. The troubles ranged from problems with our partners, to problems with our friends, problems with our families and to problems with our work colleagues.

Really the 4 big areas in your life you have relationships of significance.

These struggles had otherwise intelligent women agonising over what to do and how to solve them.

In one instance, the friend had no confidence that her job was secure as her boss would blame the staff for mistakes made by the boss. In another instance a friend was exhausted by trying to do her work and help support her partner who was going through a rough time. Between the two commitments there wasn’t enough time in the day for sleep and self care. In another situation, one of the friends had been let down by co-workers which had led to financial stress. In another situation a friend had been pulled into a drama against her will, unwittingly becoming the go-between in a dispute between 2 others and she was trying to extricate herself unscathed (otherwise known as the classic no-win situation).

The themes were betrayal, shock, mistrust, abandonment, desire to escape drama and overwhelm.

The effects of relationship stresses

The effects of these situations on one friend was an intense insomnia phase, on another friend, the brink of burnout and on another the financial uncertainty and lack of security had her right at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, unable to really do anything with the dreams she had before the current drama unfolded and instead needing to spend every waking moment dealing with the immediate crisis rather than having the energy and time to figure out how to get out of the situation and get some stability and security again.

These problem relationships in our lives had made us feel more like the target than the archer. Constantly reactive, too exhausted to do too much to flip the situation and get ourselves some more stable footing.

So as conversation switched from goals to challenges, it was obvious to me yet again, how useless information alone is.

If 3 health conscious healthcare practitioners were finding it hard to overcome the challenges which were arising as a consequence of their relationships, to the point where it was affecting their diet, sleep, weight, hair, self confidence and happiness, leaving us too exhausted for exercise, quality sleep, cooking and eating healthy meals, I couldn’t help but wonder… what chances the “average” person has? Or was I wrong to question the actual usefulness of some of this health information which is so abundant nowadays?

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has seen healthcare practitioners who drink and smoke and who don’t exercise enough due to the long hours they work. Sometimes, in helping others we run our of time and forget to help ourselves.

So how do we change the conversation?

From what I’ve observed, I think it’s hard to properly de-stress your life (so you can make better decisions about the people and dramas you allow to enter your life), until you get the basics down.

The first basic skill is learning how to recognise the  “red flag” people so you can avoid them. Eg. if you’re faced with someone who is always complaining about something, or someone who is always bitching about other people, back away cautiously and quickly where possible.

Secondly, when dealing with professional relationships, if you’re applying for a job, or hiring someone for the team make sure you read and write contracts with terms and conditions which are crystal clear (If you’re getting these written  see a good lawyer. If you’re signing them, read them too and get advice from a lawyer if you don’t understand them before you sign them). It’s amazing how many people I know don’t read the Ts&Cs and then find themselves stuck in jobs, rental agreements, and living arrangements that add extra stress to their life. So if possible, avoid the drama, know exactly what your rights are, know what the clauses for ending a contract are etc. Don’t be caught out.

Thirdly, I think there is a bit of chaos management involved here too. As we were chatting at dinner, I couldn’t help but notice each of us had at least one area in our life where chaos reigned. From clutter around the house, to a too-busy calendar. If you prefer to be a tidy person, and in stress and overwhelm you find things piling up, then the clutter tends to add to your stress.

Lastly, the fourth and final point for this post is about boundaries especially as they pertain to our general time management and priorities of self care (and self preservation).  Being able to say a confident “no” to situations which spiral into the ridiculous is important but near impossible to do as long as you’re always “on the back foot”.  Dr Dean Ornish says something along the lines of “On the days I think I’m too busy to meditate for 5 minutes, that’s the day I need to meditate for an hour”. There is truth in that notion. For many of us, on the days we are so busy, we work through lunch, skip exercise, order takeaway and find things literally piling up on our desks. It’s hard to feel confident enough to say “No” to people and to not get involved, when you’re rushing from one over commitment to another.

So that’s all for this week, next, I’d like to start a conversation about some of these “basic skills” so that we can plug some of those leaky boat holes. Which basic skills do you want to hear about first?