I was having dinner last night with a friend who is a big champion of animals. She abhors any type of animal abuse and is very vocal about it when she sees it. She also is a “glass-half-empty” sort of person.
For some reason the conversation turned to the plight of thousands of pigs during the recent flooding in the Midwest and she began to graphically describe some situations that, frankly, I didn’t want to know about.
I like animals too and it bothered me. As I listened to her I found myself becoming very frustrated and tense.
I asked her if we could change the subject.
“I thought you cared about animals,” she said.
“I do, but I can’t do anything about this situation and, although it is sad and deplorable, listening to you is stressing me out and I don’t need any more stress in my life at the moment thankyouverymuch.”
It occurred to me that many people would have simply listened and ended-up adding to their already-too-high stress levels. I know I certainly would have for a number of reasons and can certainly understand how others might react at this concept: it could be taken as rude, it could have offended, I want to please people, etc. But I have learned to protect myself, and I think that you should too.
It doesn’t have to be rude – you can ask nicely and explain that you are under a lot of stress and that the story they are telling is upsetting you. If the other person can’t understand that (or doesn’t care) then THEY are being rude and inconsiderate, not you.
What if someone is telling a story that you feel will have a bad ending? What they are telling you isn’t upsetting YET, but you sense that it will be soon. Stop them in mid-story! It’s okay to protect yourself, and you can do it nicely and without offending.
If you are in a group setting and asking someone to stop a story seems inappropriate, then leave the group.
The point: it is completely under your control, so don’t subject yourself to people and/or stories that upset you or add to your stress.
This article is one in a series on coping strategies for patients and caregivers alike.