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Improving Relationships in a Charged Environment

The world we live in today is full of challenges, conflicts, and polarization. We are constantly exposed to news, social media, and opinions that can trigger our emotions, beliefs, and biases. The good news is that there are ways to improve our relationships and hold onto our own peace even as the world is getting more intense. Here are 5 tips to manage your own mental health, grow inner peace, and experience better connections.

Relationships can be an important source of support, comfort, and joy in our lives. They help us cope with stress, share our feelings, and grow as individuals. But, when we are in an increasingly charged environment, it can be hard to communicate effectively, empathize with others, or express our needs and boundaries. We may also feel defensive, upset, or indifferent towards the people we care about, or we can feel those qualities directed towards us.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s jump in with strategies that can help:


 1. Set the Tone

You may see things from very different perspectives and let that be OK. The idea is that you both do not have to agree. Everyone is allowed to have their own individual opinion. But HOW two people talk to one another is just as important as what they say. Insist on a tone of respect. That needs to be a ground rule for any conversation. Try not to interrupt when someone else is speaking. Perhaps set a time limit for them, and if need be, pass the “talking stick” to give someone else a turn. Everyone wants to be heard. Respect means treating others with courtesy. It means hearing their opinions, feelings, and choices. Agreement not required.


2. Look for Common Threads

If you agree on certain values or principles, start there. Are there elements that you have in common? Use these as a foundation to build upon. Things like expressing kindness and gratitude are good places to start.


3. Some Questions to Explore:

  • What happened
  • What I made up about it (through my lens)
  • How it made/makes me feel
  • What I’d like now (courtesy of Terry Real)


 4. The Power of the Pause

It’s easy to say have empathy for others: put yourself in their shoes. Empathy means feeling what others feel and understanding their perspective, imagining how they would react or cope in a given situation.

Instead of reacting to what our ego deems “the truth," if you feel triggered, take a pause, and consider the best way to respond, rather than instinctively reacting (or blowing up). I always return to the quote by Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Pause before you speak.


5. Take a Few Breaths

Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment and accepting it without judgment. It means paying attention to what we see, hear, feel, think, and do without reacting impulsively or negatively. It also means being open-minded about ourselves and others. By practicing mindfulness, we can reduce our stress levels, improve our mood, and become more present to the people around us.

If someone says something that you know is triggering, take several deep breaths and let the exhale be longer than the inhale. The redirects your brain to a more relaxed (parasympathetic) state. We have the capacity to regulate our nervous systems. When your grandmother said, take a few deep breaths to regulate your emotions, she was right. 


 6. Take a Break if Necessary

If someone is very committed to their views and relentlessly wants to impose them on you, if the energy is escalating, and not in a good way, then  it is not the right atmosphere or time to converse, share ideas or connect. At those times, it is best to take a break, and try to return to the conversation when things have cooled down. You might say, “This is not moving us forward. Let’s reconnect when we both have a chance to cool down. I’m happy to talk later.” 


 7. Don’t Give Up Hope

No matter how far apart you feel from someone, no matter if you see the world in totally different ways, no matter if your feel that they are buying into a rhetoric that is not even close to aligned with your own, don’t give up hope. Situations change, people change too. People are often influenced by social media, and unrecognized internal biases. Try not to define them fully by what they are saying at this moment, because that can change. Look for the good in them, in their character and in their values, then consider a more expansive view. You may just agree to disagree. And that's OK. 

Above all, protect your peace, set boundaries as you need to, and know that life comes in cycles. All the intensity you may be seeing will subside at one point. Like nature, there is an ebb and flow, even to the intensity so many are feeling. Manage your own states, connect with kind people as you can, and don't forget that things can and inevitably will get better. 



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