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How to deal with stressed out people

We’ve all been in this situation...

You are going about your day, things are more or less going your way and then...a stressed-out co-worker, family member, or complete stranger slings their stress right at you. It may arrive in the form of insult, complaints, or vented frustration. Or perhaps a reckless driver decides to cut you off dangerously on the freeway. At first, you’re taken aback. You wonder in disbelief how someone could go so far off the handle. Then you get angry. Your shoulders start to tighten and your face gets hot. Your good day has been hijacked.

Stress is contagious, and misery really does love company. Often, walking (or driving) away is the best solution, especially when the other person is a stranger. If possible, don’t take the bait.

However, walking away might not be appropriate in all situations. When the stressed-out person is connected to you (such as a family member, colleague, or friend), your empathy and/or compassion may be warranted. This does not mean though, that you have to compromise your sense of well being. Here are a few strategies to help you stay grounded in the face of stress when you can’t walk away:

  • Before you do anything else, take a breath. Breathing buys you time to sort out how you want to respond, rather than react, to a situation.

  • If it’s not possible to walk away, take a small step back and silently recite the lyrics to your favorite song, mantra or poem to distract yourself from the intensity. You are under no obligation to absorb another person’s intentional or passive aggression, and it is much easier to offer empathy when you feel safe.

  • Meditate. Cultivate a daily meditation practice. Even a few minutes of daily meditation will go a long way in helping you stay grounded in the face of stress.

If stress is overwhelming your life, I can support you to find peace and grounding. Contact me at 503-987-0121 or

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