How to Better Communicate About Stress
Stress can affect any of us, no matter where we are in our walks of life. You may feel it in your office, while sitting in class, at the grocery store, or even while relaxing with friends. It may be a subtle sensation, like a nagging reminder of unfinished tasks, or it could be as intense as a debilitating sense of worry or even a panic attack.
So, if daily stress is so common and ubiquitous, why do we have such a difficult time expressing it to those around us? Perhaps we’re concerned it will upset our friends and family or display some sort of weakness to our professors or employers. As a result, it can be hard to know how to explain stressful sensations in a beneficial and honest way. While we may be worried about discussing these thoughts, there is a right way to let others know when you’re having a tough time. Here are some helpful tips on how to communicate effectively about stress.
Know That You’re Not Alone
These days, stress is simply part of the human condition. Perhaps it’s the quickening pace of our daily lives, or the barrage of social media, or even just the heightened expectations we place on ourselves or others to succeed in school and at work. Whatever the reason, people are feeling the pressure. A recent study showed that 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73% of people feel a psychological symptom of stress. If you are feeling the need to express your stress or anxiety to someone in your life, just know that there is a great chance they’ll understand where you’re coming from. These experiences are not unique to any age group either. A group of teenagers in Green Bay, Wisconsin recently held a town hall meeting to communicate to others in their age group that feeling stressed out is a totally normal experience.
Reduce the Physical Stress First
When you’re experiencing stress, the body reacts to a basic physiological impulse called fight-or-flight. In times of extreme anxiety or fear, your brain releases large amounts of adrenaline as an attempt to keep you safe. This biological impulse is the one you experience if you’ve ever had a close call with a car accident, and it’s the same our cavepeople ancestors felt when faced with a charging wooly mammoth. However, we still experience this when stress begins to build in our brains. Our pulse speeds up, our muscles tighten, and we may feel dizzy or even feverish. That’s why the best thing to do in these moments is to take a few minutes to address the physical effects of stress before communicating with those around us.
- Take deep, calming breaths. It may help to breathe in counts of five, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
- Let your body relax. Notice where tension is building, such as in your shoulders, jaws, or abdomen.
- Distract yourself. Try “grounding yourself” by lightly tapping your feet against the ground, which a medical study found has a direct effect on reducing stress.
Speak Directly and Honestly
You may feel nervous or even scared to tell your professor that you’re overwhelmed with midterms, or to let your boss know that you have too much on your plate to reach a specific deadline. But the fact is that people want to hear these things. In fact, a recent study showed that 81% of people interviewed would like to work at a company with an open communication culture.
- Ask to speak with someone in-person. It’s difficult to communicate these things via email or text, and the listener will have a better chance of comprehending how you’re feeling.
- Try to stay calm and be sincere with every word you speak.
- Start with “I + emotion” sentences, like “I feel” or “I think.”
- Avoid lengthy explanations and try not to be defensive
Consider Your Body Language
If you’re in a stressful experience at work, in the classroom, or even with a roommate, there’s a chance that your body language is a contributing factor. Research shows that nearly 55% of communication comes from non-verbal elements. This may cause miscommunication or even make your attempts to address the stressful situation fall on deaf ears.
- Try to stand in an open or neutral stance. Uncross your arms and face the person completely.
- Make and maintain eye contact as much as possible. It may seem counter-intuitive, as it can be a stressful experience, but this can heighten your sense of intimacy and connection with the other person.
- Stand close, but not too close. You want this conversation to feel open and honest, but you don’t want to crowd the other individual.
Dealing with stress is tough. It can keep you from reaching your best in school, in work, and even in personal relationships. But it can be even more difficult if you feel as though you’re not able to be honest and express it to those around you. But by realizing you’re not alone, addressing feelings of physical stress, speaking calmly and honestly, and considering your body language, you can be sure to have an effective and efficient discussion about your feelings of anxiety