Your friend goes from the person you know and love to this cranky asshole who won’t stop complaining, punctuated with angry outbursts. Even scarier, your partner pushes you away for no apparent reason and their habits shift to become an entirely different person.
What are ya gonna do?
It’s hard, because the things people do when they are stressed push others away. As with everything bad in life, it’s a self-defeating cycle. Get stressed, become angry and hateful because of the stress, people’s reaction to your stressed-out-self just causes more stress, which spirals out of control until everyone’s insides are wound tight with tension. It hurts the stressed out loved one, it hurts you, and it ripples out through your social contacts like a virus.
First: you take things less personally because the chances they are upset with you versus something else in their life is slim to none. Especially when it is out of the blue or tied to a work project or disagreement with a friend. And come on, we’re all angels, right? (Side note: if you’ve been a jerk, apologize)
Second: it’s incredibly better to ask “is something bothering you?” or “is everything alright?” than to stew and start to get snappy yourself. That could cause an ACTUAL problem.
Stress, the invisible virus and punching bag.
This one you’re most likely to notice if you live with the person – a roommate, partner, or spouse. One week they are eating normal, the next it’s Ben & Jerry’s for dinner one night and pizza the next. Or they are never hungry yet wound up and not themselves.
*hormones are a THING, so take this one in context if needed. #statingtheobvious
The less I want to do something or the more the thought stresses me out, the longer I put it off. It’s human nature. We all do it.
In college I had a 10 page paper (the standard for my degree) down to a science – I knew EXACTLY how long it would take. It took the stress off, even if I didn’t have any flex time.
Unfortunately life isn’t like college in that regard. It’s always something new and unexpected, throwing us off our path and causing friction.
My husband is generally in charge of cleaning the kitchen. It works for us. So when it goes a week without being touched, I know something might be up and keep an eye out for the other symptoms on this list.
#raiseshand Stress and anxiety make me cranky and temperamental. It’s one of the reasons I work hard to have a calm base for life, and the first symptom when I miss my calming habits for a day or two.
Stress-induced outbursts are flipping out at the Reply-All incident or telling ten different people about “their” parking spot being taken that morning. It’s like yelling at the UPS customer service person for the snowstorm that delayed your package and expecting it to help.
Things happen. Anger is a valid emotion. Let’s not lose sight of that.
We are talking about over the top anger at insignificant details, irrational levels of anger.
Our society fetishizes “I’m too busy” like it’s a badge of honor. (It’s not, but that’s beside the point)
While “busy” is absolutely stressful, a surge in stress can trigger social withdrawal. If your partner is normally chomping at the bit to get out of the house on weekends, then suddenly wants to hang around in his pajamas watching Scrubs …. you may want to ask what’s up.
If the coworker who normally joins your group for lunch starts eating in the stairwell, stress might have something to do with it.
Chicken and egg situation alert.
Exercising increases serotonin and happiness at a chemical level (even as your muscles rebel).
Lounging on the couch, binging Netflix and popcorn to forget about the work project is a perfect example of someone reacting to stress. So if your co-worker is looking a little pudgy and fits the description of stress in this series (Pt 1 , Pt 2 ) maybe ask what’s wrong instead of passing the donuts.
Hopefully no one uses drugs to begin with and knows that smoking is bad for you. (Is the D.A.R.E. theme song running through anyone else’s head?)
Alcohol, however, is the socially accepted drug of choice.
The underlying theme between all three is a desire to escape reality or numb the feelings we have when stressed. None of the above actually HELP reduce stress, but they lighten the immediate load and provide some temporary relief.
A stressful season at work will generally increase the night-caps, whisky consumption, or number of dirty wine glasses. Notice it in yourself. Notice it in others.
Changes in appetite – either not eating or eating too much Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities Angry outbursts
Changes in appetite – either not eating or eating too much
Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
Social withdrawal Exercising less often Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
Exercising less often
Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
If you don’t really want to have the stress-talk, or aren’t the emotional-touchy-feely type, that’s fine. Knowing that the crankiness, the withdrawal, and the snapping aren’t directed at you does wonders for your own stress levels. Just be there, and don’t take it personally.
If you do feel like you want to broach the subject, find the right moment. First thing in the door while they are still muttering about work probably isn’t the best time. After dinner and a glass of wine … much more likely.
*I feel like this article requires a disclaimer. Some people are genuinely assholes. If you know someone who goes on week-long vacation and still acts like this …. maybe it’s time to reconsider hanging out with them.
Katie calls Richmond, VA home with her husband and all the furry, four-legged creatures he and municipal code will allow. She has spent years bringing her anxiety under control, learning to trust her intuition, and dreaming of a world where people live in sustainable harmony. She is addicted to popcorn, avoids wearing shoes, should do yoga but doesn't, reads non-fiction for fun, and reluctantly gave up caffeine in search of peace. Just don’t ask her to give up sugar (read: ice cream).