In today’s fast-paced world stress is an inevitable part of life. Most of us have competing demands and responsibilities around work, family and home. Then there is environmental stress including noise, traffic and weather events, global stressors such as wars and natural disasters, and long term emotional stress such as unresolved trauma and emotional repression. It’s impossible to avoid stress. Stress itself is a natural human response to events that are perceived as challenging or threatening. The aim of stress is to help us adapt or respond to a perceived problem. The human body works well with acute stress which is a short-term stress response that occurs in response to an immediate threat or challenge, after which the body recovers from. Think of a near-miss in the car or getting up to do a presentation at work or school. This stress motivates us to act and respond. However, the accumulation of stressors over time, as well as poor coping responses to stress, can lead us to experience chronic stress – which is when our nervous system isn’t able to relax and recover, leaving us in a state of constant arousal. This chronic stress can have serious and negative consequences on our health, relationships, employment and life satisfaction.
Stress and the impact on our relationships
Experiencing ongoing stress, particularly chronic stress, is going to impact our relationship with our partner. There is no way around it. If we are in a stress response, with our body and mind constantly activated, we are going to find it hard to connect and be present with our partner. If we are very stressed it is unlikely we will have the patience to listen and try to understand where our partner is coming from or what is going on for them. Stress impacts our sleep which ultimately impacts our mood and our capacity to respond to challenges. We can also become irritable and short-tempered when stressed, as our body is overwhelmed with the ongoing stressors and cannot respond appropriately to new information or changes in plans.
This lack of presence and empathy as well as increased tiredness and irritability will inevitably lead to arguments and conflict in the relationship. We also might literally not have time to spend with our partner as we are focused on the demands that other parts of our life might be having on us. Having a body under persistent arousal is exhausting, so we are likely to be lacking the energy needed to engage in a thoughtful and positive way. Stress also directly affects our libido. If we are stressed out, tired or anxious, we are definitely not in our “sexy mind” which loves an environment of relaxation and low pressure.
Often when we are in this stressed state – which can go on for days, weeks, months or even years, we may start to blame our relationship for causing us to be in this unhealthy state. Yet, as we can see, an individual in a stressed state cannot positively engage in a healthy relationship. This in itself is likely to be at least part of the reason for why the relationship might not be working well. So before you contact the divorce lawyer, it might be a worthy investment to look at your own level of stress and how you are managing it. When we focus on ourselves to improve our relationship, we suddenly have so much more power and agency. We can loosen our grip on the idea that it is our partner that needs to change and really start to take care of the relationship and ourselves.
Stress management and the positive effects on relationships
When we start to take better care of ourselves and really start to address the stress in our lives, something will begin to shift in our relationship dynamic. By managing our stress more effectively, we will improve our communication. Good communication thrives on slowing things down and being patient, which allows us to express ourselves more clearly and calmly. We can be more present with our partner and more aware of our impact on the most important people in our lives. Managing our own stress will allow us to be more empathic. Being more present and less focused on our own issues creates space to really listen and validate our partner’s needs and feelings. All of this will mean there will be less conflict in our relationship. Stress can make us more defensive, argumentative or avoidant which are the key ingredients for conflict. By reducing our stress we can approach conflict from a more calm and understanding place, increasing the peace in the relationship. When we are less stressed, we have more time and energy to put into things we care about, such as our relationships. We can create more time for our loved ones which goes a long way in building a strong and fulfilling relationship. And finally, we will have better sex if we get a handle on our stress. Our sex drive increases with increased health, rest and relaxation which can allow for a deep intimacy with our partner.
Ways to manage stress
As we know, stress comes in many different shapes and sizes, and therefore how to remedy stress might look different for different situations and individuals. But to help you out, we’ve provided some things we can all engage with to take care of ourselves, improve our ways of coping and hopefully reduce the stress in our lives.
- Slow down! We cannot make good decisions, communicate clearly and be present if we are moving too quickly. Everything may feel like it’s urgent, but in reality most things can be slowed down. Pausing and breathing for a moment will not throw your daily schedule out of whack.
- Move your body. Our bodies were made to move but our modern lifestyle of sitting at desks and driving long distances stifles this natural function. By moving your body daily, whether it’s walking, swimming, yoga or the gym, will help calm the nervous system which is what needs to happen for us to recover from stress.
- Do things you enjoy. When was the last time you had fun? Try to pause for long enough to reflect on what you used to enjoy. Engaging in fun and pleasurable activities is essential for our contentment in life and will increase positive feelings which combat stress.
- Create a bedtime routine. Sleep is often one of the first things to be affected by stress and it is one of the most important factors in good health. Creating a bedtime routine can be a helpful cue to your body that it is time to rest and relax. Ideally get your partner on board. Turn off all screens at least an hour before bed and fill that time with slow and relaxing activities such as taking a bath or shower, reading a book, stretching or meditating.
- Remember what’s important. We can all get caught up in the daily routine of life where our goal is to tick off the giant to-do list of life. It’s important to come back to what really matters, why we are here, what is important to us.
- Get off your screens. It might seem relaxing to mindlessly scroll on social media, but in fact it is the complete opposite. It is stimulating your brain and is a physiologically activating activity which simply keeps you in a stressed state.
- Get into nature. More and more research indicates that being in nature naturally lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels, while reducing nervous system arousal and enhancing immune function.
- Cut back on the alcohol (or other substances to manage stress). Although alcohol may feel like it is helping to us relax, it is actually doing the opposite. Alcohol interferes in our sleep and increases anxiety.
- Seek therapy. For those of us with unresolved trauma it may be helpful to see a professional to loosen the grip that it has on our everyday life.
Managing our stress is essential for maintaining a healthy and meaningful relationship. You may be surprised that when you start taking care of yourself, your relationship improves. So, pause, take a deep breath and priortise your relationship by managing your stress levels today.