Welcome to Module 3 Step 1: Relax!
I can’t emphasize this enough; your mood when you enter into a
conversation defines how successful it will be. I struggle with this quite a bit. But in the months since I took the course, I’ve noticed that when I enter a conversation relaxed and calm it’s much easier to be patient, open-minded, and empathetic. Relaxing my body seems to take my brain as far from the fight or flight response as possible, and thus I’m freer to focus on the other person in the conversation instead of myself.
This goes back to Mod 2 and focusing on what your partner is saying rather than
preparing a response. That’s something I’ve long struggled with, but setting myself in a calm, steady head-space helps stop me from shifting into response preparation mode. See, when you relax your body, your mind often follows. For example, if I’m nervous but consciously breathe deeply and evenly, the nerves lessen as my body calms down.
One thing Mod 3 suggests is trying to relax and regulate your breathing when you’re upset. For me, relaxation exercises are a thousand times more difficult when I’m angry or upset. More than any other emotion, anger triggers my fight or flight response. And of course, that can greatly hinder any conversation I’m attempting to have – with my partner, with a friend, with a family member, a boss, a coworker…the list goes on.
So here’s a recommendation: figure out which emotions make it most difficult for you to be calm, relaxed, and open. Put up a sticky note on your bathroom mirror or a reminder on your phone. And then the next time you feel that emotion, try a breathing exercise. Notice your heartbeat and how it changes as you breathe more slowly and evenly. It’s okay if your thoughts are racing or if thoughts aren’t present at all; the important thing is to focus on your breath.
I happen to have racing thoughts, so I like to imagine each thought as a raindrop. It’s there and then it’s gone, like when you stand and watch the rain. You don’t really see individual drops because they fall so quickly. But you do see hundreds, thousands of them just sliding past, falling in and out of your line of sight. If it helps, imagine racing thoughts like that – present, but gone.
Let them exist, but don’t dwell on them. Allow them to come and go like rain as you breathe and listen to your heartbeat. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that calm descends easier than you thought.
Full disclosure, I’m still working on implementing that. Especially when our emotions
are running high, it’s so easy to let them take the reins. I’ve noticed that when I feel anger, it’s very difficult to engage in helpful behavior designed to wind me down because, in the heat of the moment, it feels like my anger is more important to seeing clearly than being calm. But after the anger goes away, I find that the opposite was true. Luckily, I’ve found one method that works for me, and maybe it’ll work for you too.
My method of working through anger is to self-isolate for about 30 minutes to an hour. I often feel angry as a defense mechanism, so removing myself from the person and surrounding circumstances helps. I like to retreat to my bedroom or outside to my apartment balcony if it’s a nice day. Sometimes I listen to my music playlists to recognize and then assuage the anger, and sometimes I put on a meditation and do my best to breathe my way through my emotions.
There’s no one method that works every time, so I just try different ones until something works.
That’s another tip: have multiple relaxation mechanisms in your toolbox. It’s totally okay if your usual favorite doesn’t work. Just try another one, or even something new.
But getting back to the self-isolation - the important thing for me is that I am alone and
free to process without interruption or distraction. Maybe that will work for you too; just like I mentioned in the Mod 1 blog, it’s okay to take a step back and focus on you. Be gentle with yourself, and be mindful of your mental and emotional state when you’re about to interact with your partner – especially if it’s a difficult topic for the two of you.
Don’t be afraid to take time to yourself to get into a more productive, calm state of mind. That’s step one. Relax, be aware, be calm, be at peace. Even if your emotions are
swirling, just breathe. It might help more than it seems like it will in the moment.
This is another foundational module for you, building off of Module 2’s communication workshop. Mod 3 is also a long one, so make sure you give yourself
and your partner plenty of time to sit with each step. And on a similar note, practice each step as you go – both on your own and with your partner. This module is widely applicable in the many relationships of your life, not just you and your partner’s.