Stress is like the flu. It can get passed on just by coming into contact with someone who has it! And holidays - with all their high expectations, sense of obligations, crowd navigations, and family connections - set up the perfect conditions for catching and passing on this bug.
But even if you yourself are good at keeping stress at bay (or just don't need anyone else's), there are likely all kinds of people in your life that are coughing and sneezing and groaning about their aches and pains. So if you want to help a person who's laid up with a bad case of stress, here are 3 steps to consider:
Step 1. Practice Prevention. Stay healthy with your own stress. Don't get too close to others who are infected and definitely don't use their condition as an excuse to add your own stress to a potential epidemic. And don't forget to practice good handwashing throughout the day to keep from spreading stress to others.
Step 2. Make sure it isn't you. Consider first that your stress may be making you more sensitive to others and it isn't them to begin with. But beyond that make sure YOU aren't actually a carrier of stress because you aren't carrying your own weight. Letting others do most the work makes them run down and more susceptible to stress.
Of course we are all responsible for HOW we react to someone who is not doing their share (and sometimes there is a disagreement about what should be done and who should be doing it) but if you know you should be stepping up and you aren't then by all means do so. Taking some tasks off their list - even as an act of kindness and generosity - eliminates the stress that they are trying to fight in the first place.
Step 3. Give Them A Clue. People in stress often don't notice right away. Giving someone a KIND heads up that they don't look so good gives them an opportunity to prevent it from getting any worse. (HINT: It helps not to be mean about it so try compassion, a light touch, or even well-timed humor.)
Of course if this is someone who isn't good at taking care of their stress - pointing it out might set off a tirade about how the world is conspiring against them. This is shaky ground because while there is probably some truth in this (see Step 2) it is also how they handle these stressors that makes the difference.
But telling a person that it is their fault that they have the flu in the first place is a pretty mean thing to do when they are laid up in bed. So in the moment consider listening and empathizing because it really can help someone feel better. (Though be prepared in case they turn their rant on you by making sure you are on top of Steps 1 & 2).
And if the patient seems up to it, offering some perspective, wise advice or a helpful remedies for stress might fit in here.
Finally, if blaming others for their stress is the only way they know to try to feel better - AND you have the kind of relationship where you can and care to influence them - talking about what you notice about how they deal with stress (when they are on the mend of course) may be the kindest gift of insight you could ever give them.
Managing stress is a skill that not all are very good at. But anyone can get better. All it takes is awareness of the issue, a desire to change it, good instruction and practice. Here's to a happy, and less stressful holiday season and beyond.
Annie Zirkel, LPC is a Speaker, Author and Private Practice Relationship Consultant based in Ann Arbor, Michigan who has great compassion for people who deal with people in stress (including my family!). She is available for consultation and to answer your questions. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org