By Jonathan Woolridge, WeAlign Certified Coach

The store was eerily quiet and yet I was far from alone. People were bustling past me to grab their groceries, but no one was talking. I was standing there with a bandana covering my face, hand sanitizer in my shirt pocket and scanning my personal space for intruders.

Someone bumped into me and what normally would have been a simple accident, felt like an unforgivable insult. It was like Dr. Jekyll had become Mr. Hyde and I didn’t like it. I was experiencing a stress response and wasn’t handling it well.

If you can relate to this in any way, keep reading.

The human brain is well equipped to handle stress and actively responds chemically in stressful situations in order to help you survive. These stress responses have ensured the survival of the human race since time immemorial.  The problem is that today, we aren’t typically faced with life or death situations and yet we still have stress responses regularly.

Everyone has disagreements and misunderstandings with other people.  So being able to stay relational and keep from getting stuck in negative emotions is critical if we’re going to have healthy relationships and less stress.

When we experience any kind of negative stress, we can easily slip into our fight, flight, freeze or appease response and this directly impacts our ability to make decisions and focus on the relationship with the person. Whether it’s a spouse, child, friend, coworker, or employee, we will experience better conflict resolution and deeper relationships when we aren’t being ruled by negative emotions.

Here are six statements that can help you recognize when your decision making and relationship building skills are being impacted by negative emotions. If any of these are true in a situation, then you’re most likely experiencing a stress response and not keeping the relationship bigger than the problem.

1. I just want to make a problem, person or feeling go away.
2. I don’t want to listen to what others feels or say.
3. My mind is “locked onto” something upsetting.
4. I don’t want to be connected to ____. Someone I usually like.
5. I just want to get away, fight, flight, freeze or appease.
6. I more aggressively interrogate, judge and fix others.

*Based on the work of Karl Lehman M.D.

If you’re experiencing these, then your ability to creatively problem solve while keeping the other person’s best interest at heart will be hindered. So, what can you do to change the situation? Here are couple of tips that will help you keep the relationship bigger than the problem:

1: Spend 3-5 minutes deep breathing
Doing deep breathing exercises for 3-5 minutes causes our brains to secrete serotonin which naturally helps our bodies to calm down. Our brain’s naturally do this, but we can help it along through deep breathing. That’s pretty amazing in my opinion!

Here’s an easy to remember deep breathing exercise: 4 second inhale, then hold for 4 seconds at the top of your inhale, then 4 second exhale, and hold for 4 seconds at the bottom of your exhale. Continue for 3-5 minutes or until you feel calm.

2: Focus on Appreciations
Start counting all the things for which you’re grateful. When we remember all the good things in our lives, it can have a serotonin-inducing effect as well. You could even keep a list of appreciations handy that you can focus on when you realize that you aren’t acting relationally.

I want to share a story about a recent time when I used these tips

It was bath time, which is typically happy, but this time it was irritating me. The silliness and giggling that usually brings me joy was causing me to want to yell at my kids to be quiet. After a few minutes of suppressing this urge I recognized that I was having a stress response. I asked myself why and remembered that I had read a frustrating work email right before helping my kids get in the bath.

I immediately called for my wife, Roxanne and let her know what was going on and that I needed a few minutes. She graciously took over and I went to my room (my closet to be exact), and did some deep breathing, while quoting scripture and focusing on an appreciation. I quickly started feeling a sense of calm returning and after five minutes I was able to reengage with my kids, their giggling and silliness bringing me joy once again.

So, next time you recognize the effects of stress, take a breather (literally) and focus on appreciations. I think you’ll be surprised at how effective they are in helping you keep the relationship bigger than the problem.

Give them a try and let me know how it works for you!

For more resources, Check out this article written by my colleague John Saunders: