The impact of stress on relationships

I was driving to my ukulele lesson this morning. The road I drive along is tree-lined with the trees almost meeting in an arch overhead. The leaves were all at various stages of showing their Autumn colours. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful road to drive along. I was pondering how lucky I am that this is my route to town and I was in my own chirpy little bubble. 

However as I neared town the traffic got a bit heavier and I noticed someone waiting in the opposite lane to turn and he was very clearly angry and swearing to himself (I’m no lip reader but it looked very much like it would rhyme with ‘For muck’s sake’!). This led me to ponder how angry or stressed he must be, to feel so cross at a couple of minutes delay, on a beautiful sunny day. 

I was still pondering this as I attempted to park in town. The first car park I turned into already had a big queue of stationary cars going round the one way system. I realised I had no chance of getting a space so wanted to leave the car park. The easiest way to do that was to drive up another parking lane, against the one way sign, to nip out the other end. No cars were coming but it didn’t matter as it’s a really wide lane with plenty of space for two cars to pass so I thought nothing of it. 

As I pootled up the lane, the ‘wrong’ way, 2 cars turned in from the opposite end towards me. The first driver was clearly furious at me. He was gesturing, his face contorted with indignation as we approached one another. I chose not to engage and didn’t look at him but could see how he was also lowering his window as he drew up alongside, and was bellowing at me. I also couldn’t hear as there was a really good song on the radio that I had turned up loud a while back – his words literally fell on deaf ears!! Let’s not forget I wasn’t in this cross chap’s way at all – there was plenty of room for us to pass. 

Anyway I passed Mr Angry, leaving him shouting to himself, and the driver behind him was much the same, gesturing and mouthing off at me. Again I didn’t engage or even look at him. I stayed in my chirpy bubble – after all the sun was still shining and I was on my way to ukulele! 

As I drove on I was really struck by what happens when people are already stressed. It takes literally nothing to tip them over the edge – in this case someone consciously choosing to drive the wrong way round the car park to get out. And imagine the same scenario where I had, rather than being in my chirpy bubble, also been stressed and angry and spoiling for a fight. Oh and let’s chuck in if I’d been big, tough and probably male as well. It could have got really ugly. Or perhaps if I’d been big and male the angry nobheads would have kept their frustrations to themselves?! I suspect so – it’s a lot easier to attempt to intimidate a puny female. 

If this is how easy it is to boil over in sleepy Farnham on a sunny day, over a lack of car parking spaces, it’s not that surprising that so many people are at war in the World, fighting for land / resources / food / money etc. 

And these scenarios mirror what can happen in relationships. One partner may be pretty happy and content and their mate comes home stressed up to the eyeballs, probably exhausted from stress and lack of sleep. It takes nothing to tip them over the edge. Their hackles are already raised and unconsciously they are on high alert for attack. They may react verbally or they may withdraw into stony silence, fuming to themselves. And they are absolutely 100% certain that they are in the right. Or a stressed teenager, emotions on a rollercoaster, worrying about too much homework / peer relationships or exam pressure, boils over in a split second at a wrong word from their parents. Or the hapless person at the call centre receives the full vent of someone’s frustration at something outside of their control.

The more any of us can manage our own stress levels the better and less hostile the World can be. There are many things that can help: 

* Building more downtime into your day by not taking on so much

* Prioritising your self care

* Spending time in Nature – it’s proven to be very calming

* Laughing and finding the humour 

* Connecting with people 

* Meditation or mindfulness apps

* A few deep breaths before you walk in 

* Exercising out the excess stress hormones

* Getting to bed on time 

* Not reading things that upset you whether that’s the news, social media etc. 

Etc etc 

The more all of us can try to manage our stress and stay in our chirpy bubbles the World will be a friendlier and more lovely space. 

Luckily I found a car parking space, made it to the warm and comforting embrace of my ukulele lesson and we all had a good sing-song with some laughs along the way. And the sun was still shining for the drive home. Please like / share. Sue x