How do you deal with a stressed or negative person very close to you?

Moods are contagious. If you work with someone who is upbeat all the time, smiling and always helping out everyone at work you can easily find yourself shifting towards that more positive outlook.

Unfortunately the opposite is also true, and if you work or live in close proximity to someone who seems to be in a perpetual state of high stress, or negative mood, it can rub off and cause some real heartache.

If you’re sitting there nodding away to this with the name of somebody in mind, don’t point the finger too quickly – this is an article about what you can do.

1. Look at yourself first

If there is someone who is always highly agitated and stressed when you’re around, it may be time to look at whether you’re contributing to the situation. Are you doing or saying things that are raising the tension in the room? Are you closing down conversation that needs to be open, or missing out on particularly sensitivities that should be observed?

Think about your own moods lately – how have you been behaving and what does your body language convey – happiness or a dark mood of annoyance?

Maybe you are so stressed or negative you are causing those around you to react badly. It can be a bizarre shift in perspective to wonder whether you are the one causing the situation.

2. Ignore vs avoid

Sometimes engaging with high stress individuals can cause a situation to escalate wildly when it really didn’t need to. Sometimes a stressed and agitated person is looking for an outlet for their frustration, and a comment (any comment) can be enough to trigger an outburst that you don’t deserve at all. Maybe the dark, gloomy person just needs time out to get through it.

Usually someone in this state will be giving off some pretty clear ‘do not disturb’ signs. It can be an ambiguous behaviour set that includes swearing under one’s breath, or slamming papers down in ways in which it can seem as though they want attention.

Unfortunately, what they’re communicating is that they need an outlet. It can take some skill and familiarity with a person to read these ‘do-not-disturb’ signs.

If you find yourself in this situation where you think it’s best to avoid poking the bear, make sure you follow up in a more peaceful setting to say that that kind of behaviour has a negative effect. It’s a common way to show frustration – but it doesn’t mean it’s okay. So there will come a point where you cannot avoid it totally.

3. What are they really telling you vs what you think this is all about

Listening to the tone of someone’s voice compared to what they are saying can sometimes give you a much clearer window into what’s really going on. If you think there is disparity between what is being said and the tone in which it’s being talked about then maybe you need to shift the conversation by saying, “let’s slow down a minute – what’s the real problem here?”

Finding a way in through someone’s stressful exterior can be really tricky, but getting caught up in the whirlwind is a shortcut to further problems.

4. Be caring – show empathy

If you are around a person who is emitting dark clouds of anger or atomic levels of stress a common response is to show irritation and tell them to get over it. This is like throwing petrol on the fire. It also closes off the most important avenue to changing the situation: open discussion.

By showing care and empathy you can take the electric charge out of the air and create a self-awareness in the person that highlights to them that a discussion is a better way forward than a clenched jaw and furrowed brow.

Some options to open this tricky conversation include:

I see you are upset, I understand this is tough, I can hear how frustrated you have been…

Are you all right?

I’ve noticed you are seemingly really stressed out – I’d like to help. Can we talk about it?

5. Find a way forward – ask what they think should change to fix the situation

Stressful situations can have more than one contributor. Beyond working on your own methods of avoiding escalation and triggers to other people – talk to this stressed out person and help them identify that they have a habit of gloom or stress.

Maybe take some responsibility for your part in the situation and offer changes you would like to make.

Get to a point of actions and reiterate them and find a time soon after to check in and make sure things are changing. If the problem is serious, suggest a referral to a professional who can help.

So many of us live stressful lives, and a build-up of pressure is understandable, we have to be on the lookout for those behavioural loops that cause the problem to fester or grow. It is amazing how much the body and mind can grip onto bad feelings and stress as though life depends on it. These are habits that we do have some control over.

Eve Ash has a wide range of resources and books that can help people change their thinking and habits in a constructive way.


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