Most psychologists agree that relationships are the main source of stress in our lives. Whether there is strife among family members, trouble in a romantic partnership, or a belligerent person at work, the pressure of finding safe interactions with difficult people weighs heavily upon most of us. The anxiety around encountering people who are mean to us, get on our nerves, or otherwise push our buttons can colour everyday life to such a degree that our physical health may be affected.
Yoga Therapy acknowledges that stress affects the entire being. Mental stress is not separated from physical stress. Coping with a difficult person shifts the way we view the situations surrounding that person, and may even alter how we see ourselves. When others trigger us, we tend to respond in ways that do not match our self-image: becoming meek, quiet, angry, or abusive. These mental-emotional reactions have a clear and direct effect on the body as well. The heart begins to pound, breath becomes rapid and shallow, muscles tense. We may feel hot or cold, get teary or loud, or say things we don’t mean. Yoga Therapy has tools to address these reactions and even intervene on a perceptual level to change the relationship with a difficult person.
If you are encountering a difficult person in your life, consider taking some of the following actions:
1. Join a yoga class or find a Yoga Therapist.
2. Notice your breathing pattern when you are having fun with people who care about you. Later, you can bring this breath into the encounter with the difficult person.
3. During a relaxation practice, visualize yourself interacting with the difficult person. Feel your muscles respond and encourage them to stay relaxed. Continue breathing in a deep, rhythmic way.
4. If you have the support of a counsellor or Yoga Therapist, you may identify the underlying cause of the disturbance within you. Questions such as “What does this remind me of?”, “What am I afraid of in that situation?”, “What do I need [to give myself/to feel/to stay calm/etc.] when interacting with the difficult person?”, “When was the first time I remember feeling this way?”, and “What am I learning from this experience?” are all beneficial in shifting the mental perspective and automatic response.
5. When you encounter the difficult person, apply the breathing practice from Step 2 and hold the imagery and feeling from Step 3 in your mind. If appropriate, use any insights from Step 4 to help you rework the encounter from a higher perspective.
6. Nurture yourself after these difficult encounters. Listen to uplifting music, call someone who loves you, or repeat an affirmation. Trust that the more you focus on self-care, rather than changing the difficult person, the more power you have and the less stressed you will be.
7. Attend the Yoga for Happy Relationships workshop with Erin Byron at Janati Yoga School on March 21, 1:30-3:30pm to gain more tools and a direct experience of de-stressing interpersonal relationships.
Dealing with difficult people might be one of the greatest stresses in life. Apprehension around these encounters can affect our mood, eating and sleeping habits, and overall health and well-being. Yoga Therapy interventions like deep breathing, physical relaxation, and mental/emotional awareness support us in taking control of ourselves when relating to others. This self-empowerment removes the stress from the encounter, as we apply yogic tools that help us remain centered, calm, and in alignment with the person we truly are inside. By acknowledging the difficulty within ourselves, we no longer perceive others as difficult.
Erin Byron, MA is a Psychotherapist, Yoga Therapist Trainer, and the author of Yoga Therapy for Stress & Anxiety and Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living. She is an internationally-renowned presenter on topics of yoga & mental health.