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How to stop the overwhelm during relationship storms


If you’re in the middle of a relationship storm what you most want is calm and stability.  Often you just wish you could turn the clock back and for everything that has happened, not to happen.  Instead it’s like being trapped in a nightmare.  You get caught up in going over and over conversations and events, trying to understand where it all went wrong and what could have been done to stop it.

It’s time to take a deep breath and find a way out.  There are a number of things you can do:

TAKE A BREAK     Recognise that you are having a very stressful time and find a way to take a break, even if only for a short time.   You might make an agreement with yourself that for the next 10 or 20 minutes you are going to think about something else.  Telling yourself not to think about something doesn’t generally work.  It helps if you do something active (requiring some physical movement for example cooking a meal or ironing) and concentrate just on that task.  If that’s difficult and your mind starts racing away again you will need to give it a job to do.  Counting is an easy task for your brain to do and will distract it from thinking about other things for a short while.  Every time you notice a thought coming in again, just go back to counting.

KEEP IN THE PRESENT     When things go wrong it’s easy to go over and over conversations and events.  This is our natural way of trying to make sense of what has happened.  Although this can be helpful, it keeps us trapped in the past and stops us from concentrating on where we are now.  You can’t change the past but you can change what happens next.  It can be hard to face the difficult situation you’re in, but you might be able to ask yourself ‘what can I do right now that would be helpful to me or the situation’.  That might well be doing nothing.  Sometimes it’s best to wait for the storm to pass over.

RELIEVE THE PRESSURE     When you’re distressed it’s important to take steps that will relieve the pressure on you, and sometimes on the relationship.  The pressure comes in various forms but often includes commitments.  The arrangements you have made for the short and long term future probably included the other person in some way.  Finding a way to postpone or cancel these commitments gives you time and helps you feel more in control.

TALK TO PEOPLE     Everyone has difficulties in relationships at some time and most people understand.  Maybe you’re someone who listens to other people’s problems and prefers to keep their own problems to themselves.  Having problems does not make you a weak a person and you probably don’t think other people are weak when they talk about theirs.  You might find that some people you talk to start to get emotional themselves and ‘wind you up’, rather than calm you down.  Sometimes it’s good to let off steam and have a good rant with other people, but sometimes you just need to be held and supported.  Chose the people who can best help you at different times.

DON’T TALK TO EVERYONE     Some people tell everyone their problems.  The difficulty is that you can get lots of advice and points of view which can create more confusion rather than less.  Some people find they regret telling people later, sometimes because they have disclosed more than they feel comfortable with at a later date.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE     Most people will get distressed at some time because life can be unfair and upsetting.  Probably other people would also be angry and upset if it was happening to them.  When we are distressed what we most need is to be comforted.  If the person you most want to find comfort from is unable or unwilling, it’s important to find friends or family members who will be there for you.  No-one is alone in this world, so even if you can’t find anyone around you all you need to do is reach out.  I am a counsellor and I am one of very many people who want to be there to support you through the bad time.  You can find us.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF     Make it easy for you to recover from the distress.  Physically you need to eat and sleep.  Keep meals easy to prepare and light, and make sure you get enough sleep and rest.  Limit the activities and demands you have on your time as you have less resources just at the moment.  Think back to when you were younger.  What did you do when you were a child and feeling upset.  Try using the same strategies now so you can help yourself to feel more comfortable and calm.

REGULATE YOUR EMOTIONS     When you get upset it’s easy for your thoughts and feelings to take over and you can feel overwhelmed and out of control.  Sometimes you can be aware of how one thought leads to another and sends you into that downward spiral.  When you’re feeling very emotional try switching your attention from what is going on inside your body, to what is going on outside your body.  You can do this by looking around you and just saying in your head, or out loud, the names of everything you can see.  Simply look around the room and say ‘there’s a chair, there’s a light, there’s a book…etc’.  This forces your mind into noticing you in your surroundings and releases the temporary hold it has on your thoughts.

REASSURE YOURSELF     If you keep telling yourself it’s bad/scary/terrible etc you will tend to feel more pessimistic.  Reassure yourself that you can get through this.  You might be able to remind yourself of other times in your life that have been difficult and you managed to survive.  You could put stick notes in places you will regularly see them ,with positive and reassuring messages as a reminder.

GIVE YOURSELF TIME     It takes time for things to get better, and for you to feel better.  Although you might be in a rush for everything to be sorted out, it usually takes time.  Give yourself, and sometimes other people or your relationship, time to heal.  Putting pressure on the speed of healing tends to backfire and cause delay.  Healing relationship distress takes time, not lots and lots of time, but some time.

Relationships can bring us the greatest joy, and the greatest pain.  The pain will pass, even if at the moment it is all encompassing.  Take shelter and be kind to yourself while you are waiting.

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