Preventing is better than venting


late for work

What an interesting play on words–“vent” and “prevent”. I was thinking about this dynamic the other day while listening to a client talk about how exhausting it is becoming for her to respond to her husband’s chronic stress.

“It’s like he doesn’t see that he needs to delegate tasks, he needs to not commit to things that are going to stretch him too thin, he doesn’t take care of himself and then when all this builds up, he comes home and vents it all to me. I try to support him as best I can but it seems like as soon as he is starting to feel better, something else comes along that makes him all frayed and frazzled again!” Marsha exclaims.

“Have you tried meeting him at the door with a double shot of whisky, wearing pink lingerie doesn’t distract him enough?” I ask.

“Brett, you know how teddies chafe me!” We both have a chuckle.

Marsha brings up an important point that we all need to consider. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of bitching. So often we are caught in a reactive cycle, where we engage with our work and those around us in a way that dysfunctional and uncomfortably comfortable, leading inevitably to the negative outcomes that misaligned interactions yield. Instead of making needed adjustments, we react instead. We drink, smoke, escape with TV and video games, we moan and complain, we overeat, we compensate with mind-numbing exercise or whatever makes the pain lessen. Instead of reflecting on our patterns of interaction that create the stress in the first place, we simply do what we have always done expecting different results. Unfortunately, our loved ones are often caught up in this cycle with us. We end up repeating the same arguments or endlessly seeking the solace that ultimately drains those around us.

In order to reduce the need for reactive stress-management, and increase the utilization of proactive stress-management, try a few of these techniques:

1: Don’t shoulder all life’s tasks by yourself. Even if others seem unwilling or unable to help, remember they can be trained to be helpful and you have to start somewhere. Delegate more frequently and share the load.

2: Stop over-committing to things that don’t really fulfill your personal needs and goals. Say ‘no’ to baking 148 cupcakes for the school bakesale. Suggest your friend take a cab to the airport 50 miles away. Don’t stay late and work through every lunch just because your work team is behind and are not pulling their share.

3: Self-care is a must. Even when you are busy–particularly when you are busy–it is essential that you nurture your experiential needs. Meditate, get a massage, go to lunch with a friend, listen to your favorite CD while soaking in the tub, take a walk, whatever recharges you. Exercise can be really good but it can end up being yet another goal you are striving to achieve so find other ways to nurture and restore that are process-focused rather than outcome-focused.

I always say that processing and receiving nurturing from others is a critical element of close relationships and it is. Just make sure you balance your needs with the prevention of pain. And remember, when you wife greets you at the door with a drink and a nightie, ignore the drink. If it’s your husband in the lingerie, you may need the drink first.

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