Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about something that’s integral to living a truly healthy life. It’s not diet. It’s not exercise. It’s not even acupuncture! (Although acupuncture is always a good idea.) The one thing that has become so clearly important is relationships.
As a stress and anxiety expert, not a day goes by that I don’t think about relationships. Connection is as essential to the human experience as food and water. But relationships (or lack thereof) can be tough. They can be stressful. And they can even cause issues like anxiety and depression.
I believe that relationships have just as much power to heal us as they might hurt us. The key is to treat relationships like any other skill in life: we have to practice.
Here we’ll review the main reasons why we feel stress and anxiety in relationships, then learn some simple ways to improve these relationships - and our health.
Three Steps to Healing Relationship Stress
Step 1: Get to the Root Cause
Whether it’s your physical health, your mental health, or your relationship health, the first step to healing is always to identify the root cause. By understanding why certain relationships cause stress, we can heal worn connections and create more positive relationships in the future.
While each relationship is different, there are three main reasons anxiety develops:
1. There is uncertainty about the future of the relationship.
Those anxious thoughts in your head? They feed on uncertainty. If there is uncertainty about the direction of your relationship, the boundaries of the relationship, or other aspects of your connection, this will lead to tension. Unfortunately, this tension often leads to blocks in communication or arguments, which only makes the stress escalate.
2. Misunderstandings or imbalances cause resentment.
When we don’t communicate clearly, trouble happens. Miscommunication causes arguments, deep-seated tension, and resentment. And all for nothing!
Imbalances in relationships can also cause resentment. If one person in the relationship feels like they’re doing all the work to keep the relationship alive, it starts to wear on both people. As do imbalances in time, commitment, and dedication to the relationship.
3. Unresolved outside stress causes tension with others.
Stress at work, with finances, or even with other people can often impact our relationships with those we’re closest to. Not only does this do nothing to ease your outside stressors, but it also adds new stress to your relationship.
Step 2: Adopt Habits that Create Better Relationships
Understanding the cause of stress and anxiety in your relationship gives you direction. Now, you need to take the first step. The following ideas offer a habit to take on together, as well as one that you can develop yourself.
To fight uncertainty and feel more confident in your relationships:
• Together: Try something new.Sometimes routine is comfortable, while other times it may make us feel isolated or lonely. Over time, these feelings can grow into feeling disconnected and even worried about your relationship.
An easy way to reconnect is by trying something new together - be it a new hobby, a new walking trail, a new recipe. Growing together and learning or experiencing something new opens up new and exciting ways to reconnect.
• Alone: Don’t slack on self-care.
Relationships can be our mirrors. If your connection with someone is faltering, feels empty, or neglected, take a step back. How healthy is your relationship with yourself? Do you trust yourself? Are you giving yourself the time, care, and love you need to feel supported?
If not, start within. Make time each day for small acts of care, and dedicate one day per week or a few days per month to more substantial self-care, like acupuncture, massage, or whatever makes you feel rejuvenated and whole.
When you feel confident and loving with yourself, your relationships will feel more natural and restorative, too.
To make tense relationships more peaceful:
• Together: Reframe conflict into something positive.
It’s true - conflict is uncomfortable! But it’s not inherently “bad” and shouldn’t be avoided. In fact, healthy conflict provides an excellent trigger to progress a relationship further to make it a more healing experience for both parties.
Instead of avoiding conflict, embrace it with a curious heart. What can you learn from a disagreement? Have you overlooked something? Is there another way to think about the situation that could lead to a better outcome for everyone?
Embracing conflict mindfully is one of the best ways to grow your relationship and feel more connected.
• Alone: Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation.
Loving-kindness meditations are one of the best ways to clear the internal tension you feel towards someone. During a loving-kindness meditation, you visualize the person you want to have a better relationship with and mindfully wish them well. In doing so, you grow your own capacity for compassion and start the healing process within.
To ditch stress and make your relationships deeper or more meaningful:
• Together: Get curious with more meaningful questions.
You can never truly know someone. And while that may feel scary or intimidating if you want to feel comfortable with someone, it simply means that you can never get bored of anyone’s company! If you play your cards right...
Getting to know someone requires listening to their story. And sometimes we need to ask the right questions to get new and more meaningful information. An easy way to do this is to shift the questions you ask on a regular basis. For example, instead of “How was work?” you could ask, “What was your favorite part of the day today?” Want to make a whole evening out of deepening your relationship? There are even a few fun card games (like Actually Curious and We’re Not Really Strangers) to really break the ice!
• Alone: Write a love letter.
Gratitude is an amazing medicine. It erases stress by bringing the good things in life front and center. It gives us perspective. And it helps us grow stronger relationships.
If you want to deepen your relationship with someone, sit down and write them a “love” letter. You don’t have to send it to them, although who wouldn’t want to find such a kind gesture in their mailbox?! The purpose is to spend a few minutes focusing on all the reasons you are grateful to know this person. It might even help you realize some amazing things about them that you had forgotten.
Step 3: Nurture Relationships and Your Health
Now that we have a good understanding of the potential relationship hurdles and a few ways to take action on those issues, we can start to cultivate our connections.
Healthy relationships don’t run themselves. They need regular care and nurturing to continue to thrive, just like a garden. With a little effort though, you’ll be rewarded wildly! Here are just a few ways that nurturing your relationships impact your overall health and wellbeing:
• Relieve stress, rather than cause it.
• Boost your self-esteem and confidence.
• Relieve anxiety and lift depression.
• Improve your brain health.
• Stimulate feel-good hormones for emotional balance.
• Prevent chronic disease and boost longevity.
• Lead to improved healing, recovery, and stronger immunity.
• Help you reach your goals.
Start Your Path to Thriving Relationships at Calm San Diego
Relationships should fill our hearts with joy and love, not make us angry and anxious!
But, as humans, none of us are perfect. We bring our insecurities, stress, fears, and doubts into relationships with our friends and family, partners, coworkers, and others. Thankfully, there are many ways to rise above these challenges and create the healthy relationships we crave and deserve.
Calm San Diego is dedicated to helping people live happier lives, and that includes improving how we address relationships. With the power of Chinese medicine and mindfulness, we help you manage your body’s response to stress and anxiety in relationships and beyond.
Schedule a consultation to start creating more meaningful relationships today!