Don't let other people's problems stress you out - here's how

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Do you get upset just hearing about the stress issues of your friends? Do your family members have problems that seem to grow daily?

As you try to figure out how to help, you can go through a lot of emotions.

Knowing how to help, while protecting your own sanity, is critical. Allowing others to drain your time, energy, or resources will backfire in the long run.

For example, let's say your friend has maxed out her credit cards. She might be hinting for a loan from you. The problem is: you're stretched financially yourself.

Or, a close relative might want to borrow your car because his must be repaired. You'd love to help, but you know your car's engine needs a tune-up.

It's tough enough to solve your own problems, so how can you deal with extra stress from others?

These tips can help:

  • Be sure to tell the truth about you own stress. You might say, "I'd love to help, but I'm in a bind right now myself." Share your own vulnerabilities, especially if you're being pressured to help.
  • Don't offer too much advice. Instead, try to provide a few options. It's not your job to fix other adults' problems. Most people resent it if you have a long recipe of advice to offer. In addition, your friends and family members may resent the fact you know too many details about their business, if you become too involved.
  • Accept the fact that each person has lessons to learn. If a friend keeps getting into quarrels with her significant other, mention a good self-help book or offer to buy one for your friend. A good self-help book can change someone's life.
  • Don't fantasise that people can change rapidly. No one can instantly "shape up" and become mature or easy to live with. Nothing happens in a snap.
  • "Judge others kindly and cut them some slack," says a friend of ours who counsels veterans. We'll call her Patty. "I've always been puzzled by a friend of mine who can't trust people. But, I found out she was a latch-key kid for many years. She had no one to trust, so she has no points of reference."
  • Another friend of ours, whom we'll call Diana, says her husband needs too much attention. "If I leave him for two hours to go shopping, he gets very antsy," Diana told us.
  • "Many women would get into a quarrel with such a man," she explained, "but I accept him the way he is. When I'm gone, I call him a couple of times. This works. I don't try to psychoanalyse him."
  • If we learn to adjust our own actions, we can navigate issues with other people more easily. It's when we wonder when they will change that we get angry.
  • "Thinking ahead can really help you deal with others," says a psychologist we'll call Mary Jo. "For example, I know my daughter-in-law gets really stressed on Sundays. Her in-laws all come to her house, and she has a full-time job and three kids."
  • Mary Jo has learned to deliver food occasionally to her daughter-in-law's house, so she can enjoy her weekends.
  • "Many times, if we accept a situation that's stressful, we can eliminate a good part of the stress," says Mary Jo. "It's when we try to change the people involved that we cause more stress. It's easier to change a situation, just slightly, than to change people."

Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe.

Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator.

Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.

Tribune News Service