6 Steps for Dealing with Emotionally Draining People

 

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Do you have a friend (or coworker or family member) who leaves you feeling exhausted and emotionally drained after you interact with him or her? You're not alone. Empathy and sympathy are incredible skills to have and maintain, but practicing them can, at times, be overwhelming and emotionally (and sometimes physically) draining, especially if you are a highly sensitive person who tends to absorb the emotional states of others. A friend recently emailed me and asked for my advice. What should I do, she asked, when my best friend calls me and shares traumatic events she frequently experiences frequently as a result of her career? How do I cope with the negative emotions I indirectly experience as a result of listening to her? Is this just what best friends are supposed to do, allow themselves to be emotionally hijacked in order to offer support and comfort? 
 
My first reaction to this was: no, friendship is absolutely not about being supportive and comforting at the risk of undoing your own mental wellbeing. My second reaction was: I've experienced this before, too, and I've heard others talk about similar situations as well, so it seemed like a great topic to dive into this week. If you haven't already, at some point you're going to encounter someone who feels emotionally draining but who, due to circumstances out of your control (or because you don't want to), you cannot completely remove from your life. Here are some of the best ways to deal with emotionally draining people. 
 
 
 
 
STEP 1 : CREATE PERSONAL PEACE
 
First and foremost, you have to be in a peaceful emotional state yourself, or it's going to be really difficult to cope with others' emotions. Of course, creating personal peace is no easy task (it's kind of the point of this whole website, in fact, and I'm still learning how to do it!), but it's important to make the effort. Your life as a whole (when you're not interacting with this emotionally draining individual) influences your interactions with others, so it's important to do the best you can to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally so you're in the best possible shape to cope when others come to you for comfort or counsel. This will always be a work in progress so don't beat yourself up if you don't have this down. Just keep trying to create as much personal peace as you can. 
 
 
 
STEP 2 : ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES
 
Once you have personal peace (hahaha, jk, that's a lifelong journey, but at least you're trying!), it's time to establish your boundaries for what you'll allow to penetrate that peace. It sounds like this wouldn't be too hard, but it's actually quite a tough task when it comes to people you love (or people you have to work with and can't just avoid). Years ago I wrote Preserving Your Perimeter: 4 Steps to Set Boundaries, and it's worth a read if you're struggling to identify, set, and maintain your boundaries with others. Learning about personal boundaries has been life-changing for me, and it's one of the best ways to combat emotional fatigue. 
 
 
 
STEP 3 : BE HONEST + DIRECT
 
Now that you're perfectly peaceful (ha!) and you've identified what your boundaries are, it's time for the challenging part: communicating your thoughts and boundaries to those around you. It's important to remember that other people can't read your mind. Most of the time they don't have any idea that they're negatively influencing your emotional state. You don't have to be harsh or cruel when you communicate with others, but you must be honest and direct. You'll probably feel vulnerable (and maybe even a bit selfish) by expressing how you feel, but it's worth it to maintain your own mental health, and to ultimately be a better friend / coworker / partner / etc. 
 
 
 
STEP 4 : OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE
 
After you've conveyed your feelings, it may be helpful to offer an alternative. For example, let's say a friend is sharing her heartbreaking experiences with emotional abuse, pain so raw and real that it's difficult for you to cope with. After explaining to her that the emotional burden is too much for you, do some research and offer her solutions, information, or suggest a professional who can better help her deal with her situation. While it's wonderful to be a good listener and a empathetic friend, if someone you know is going through deep emotional stress, the best thing s/he can do is seek the advice and guidance of a professional, not simply the comfort of a friend. Friends ≠ therapists.
 
 
 
STEP 5 : COUNTERACT THE IMPACT
 
If you have to interact with an emotionally draining person (and, despite all of your efforts to create boundaries and honestly convey your feelings, you will), one of the best things you can do for yourself is to counteract the emotional impact with positive experiences. If possible, bookend your emotionally draining experience with uplifting and inspiring ones. These don't have to be grand activities -- just reading an inspiring quote, for example, could count as a positive bookend -- but they should be implemented as much as possible. Know you're going to have a tough meeting with a coworker? Treat yourself to reading a chapter of an uplifting book beforehand and schedule a meeting with an inspiring colleague after to make the experience more bearable.  
 
 
 
STEP 6 : CONSIDER DISTANCING YOURSELF
 
If you're dealing with a close friend, coworker, or partner, this can be challenging, but it's up to you to enforce your own emotional boundaries. It might feel like you have no choice (I can't dump my best friend! I can't leave this job! I don't want a divorce!), but you always have a choice. If someone drains you to the point that it's unbearable, you need to consider the possibility that this person isn't a good fit for your life. If you've done the five steps above and this person continues to drag you down emotionally, it might be time to remove yourself from the friendship / job / relationship. That's not easy to hear, but you'll know, deep down in your heart, if this person's impact is so great that it's preventing you from living an emotionally sane life. Yes, a great deal of your emotional state is up to you, but part of maintaining your own personal peace means making choices to eliminate the people who threaten the kind of life you want to be living. 
 
 
 
If you're currently in a situation with an emotionally draining individual, it's my hope that these tips with positively impact that relationship in some way. Always remember: You can be a good friend without being a therapist. You can be a good coworker without being a therapist. You can be a good partner or parent or sibling or child without being a therapist. You are not required (nor qualified, in most cases) to be anyone else's therapist or emotional dumping ground, and you can, with kindness and compassion, often find a way to maintain a relationship with this person without sacrificing your own emotional health. 

    

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Mastering Mindfulness (No Meditation Required!)

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When many people hear the word "mindfulness," what comes to mind is a serene-looking yogi chanting mantras softly from atop an embroidered cushion. Many people equate mindfulness with meditation — a nice activity to aspire to, but one that, for a variety of reasons (time, cultural expectations, etc.), often feels unattainable. Meditation, while it does offer many incredible benefits to those who practice it, isn't the same as mindfulness. Meditation can be a wonderful way to cultivate a more mindful life, and with its rise in popularity in recent years, there are tons of sites and apps to guide those interested in it, but mindfulness is about so much more than meditation.
 
Mindfulness isn't just about deep breathing and motivating mantras (though those can be wonderful!). Mindfulness is, as Masters of Mindfulness founder, Monica Ortiz, says in this video, "just about being present, about being aware of where you are, what you're doing, how you're feeling, what you're thinking, and what's going on around you without being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on."
 
Of course, we all know that's way easier said than done. Staying in the moment, being aware of what's happening but not feeling reactive or overwhelmed, is really challenging for most of us. It's so difficult, in fact, that most of us would rather not do it, choosing instead to hurry through our days, numb ourselves from awareness, or distract ourselves so we don't have to master the art of being mindful. 
 
But, as with most things in life, it's the really challenging stuff that offers some of the greatest benefits. Here are just a few of the positive things that mindfulness has been proven to do: reduce stress, offer insights into the self, discover deeper a understanding of life, experience better health, enhance job performance, improve relationships, and enjoy how we're spending our time. If mindfulness offers so many benefits, why are so many of us avoiding it? 
 
The reasons for avoiding mindfulness are plenty, but one of the main reasons, I believe, is that people don't know what to do to be more mindful. Mindfulness requires practice and repetition. It's kind of like exercise. We know it's good for us, but some of us aren't interested in going for a run. The thing is: running isn't the only way to get some exercise, just like meditation isn't the only way to practice mindfulness. 
 
When it comes to mastering mindfulness, the trick is to find what works best for you and incorporate it into your life as often as possible. You might have to play around a bit, trying different activities to see what feels right for you. Here are some ways you can play around with adding more mindfulness to your life. 
 
 
SEEK OUT INSPIRATION
 
You're already on the right path, just by being here on Positively Present! Seeking out inspiration is a great way to connect with a mindful experience. Just think about the last time you saw or read or experienced something that made you feel inspired. It caused you to stop for a moment and reflect, didn't it? Inspiration can be anything — a stunning piece of artwork, a glorious sunset, a smile on a child's face, a quote that feels like it was written just for you at this exact point in your life. Whatever inspires you, seek it out often because every time feel inspired, you're mindfully in the moment. 
 
 
GENERATE MORE GRATITUDE
 
Practicing gratitude might sound like cliched advice, but, trust me, it works. Nothing has helped me more in my quest for a positively present life than learning to be grateful for everything (even the not-so-great parts of life). I've been keeping a gratitude journal consistently for the past year (in my Every Day Matters diary!), and I've seen a huge difference in how I feel about the world around me (and about myself too!). There are many ways to practice gratitude, but a gratitude journal is an excellent place to begin. 
 
 
MONITOR YOUR MOOD
 
Paying attention to your mood is one of the best ways to not only be more mindful, but to use that mindfulness to create a more wonderful life. Knowing how you feel in certain circumstances, around certain people, and when doing certain tasks allows you to make adjustments — to include more of the positive aspects of life and to remove more of the negative aspects — and, while these adjustments aren't always easy, it's amazing what you can do when you remove what's not working. Get yourself a mood tracker, and you'll find yourself becoming more mindful of how everything makes you feel. 
 
 
REVERE RELAXATION
 
Relaxation isn't exactly revered in Western culture. It's usually reserved for vacations and lazy Sunday mornings. But learning how to relax leads to great moments of mindfulness. For many of us, relaxation can actually be really tough. We feel like we should be doing something. One way to give more reverence to relaxation is by surrounding yourself with things to sooth your five senses — soft melodies to listen to, calming scents to take in, comforting items to touch (a dog's fur is my favorite), serene images to look at, and foods that make your tastebuds rejoice. Make time for relaxation and you're making time for mindfulness. 
 
 
 
These are just a few of the many ways you can practice mindfulness without meditation (though meditation can be really amazing so definitely give it a try if you haven't!). There's also a great new app, Masters of Mindfulness, that's an excellent resource for exploring a variety of mindfulness techniques. The app includes everything you'd ever need to master mindfulness all in one spot: a mood tracker, a gratitude journal, healing songs, mindful living videos, upspirations (inspirational quotes with insights on applying them to your life), and, of course, meditation! Mindfulness isn't about adhering to one strict idea of what it means to stay in the moment; it's about using the techniques that work best for you so you can reap the benefits of being more aware of what's happening in your life. 
  
 
 
Blog-post-marketing-imageThank you to the new Masters of Mindfulness app for sponsoring today's post!
 
Masters of Mindfulness is the world's most complete mindfulness app, now available on iOS and Android. The app brings all the tools you need to become a master of mindfulness. Meditate with others in a live stream meditation, or on your own time with a library of recorded meditations. Track your Mood daily and discover what is affecting you negatively / positively and become empowered to change things up. Cultivate positivity through your very own Gratitude Journal. Relax and destress with healing songs in the Soothing Sounds section. Browse Upspirations, quotes meant to inspire, and learn how to apply them to your situation. Enlighten and expand your mind through video interviews with health and healing practitioners, mindful living teachers, and more in the Videos section. This app has everything you need to cultivate mindfulness.
 
Visit their website to learn more about the Masters of Mindfulness app, or download the app to get started today and watch your world change! 

 

 

17 Years Ago I Turned 17: Part 2


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Last week, I celebrated the seventeenth anniversary of the day I turned 17 (yes, I'm now 34!) by sharing some of the life lessons I've learned over the past year. Like so many of us, I'm always learning and growing and changing, and I really enjoy reflecting on what I've learned over the past year. (I highly recommend doing it whenever you have a birthday. We're often so busy and moving so quickly through life that we don't often pause to reflect on what we've learned, and b-days are a great time to do this!)

Without further ado, here's Part 2 of the 34 life lessons I've learned this year. (And here's Part 1 if you missed it!)

 

18. PICK PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOUR B-DAY.

This might sound superficial, but the way people react to your birthday says a lot about them and your relationship (even if they're not a big "birthday person.") Birthdays are kind of silly, yes, but they're also symbolic of the day you were born. If the people in your life aren't excited about that, well... That's not great. Birthdays are a great time to assess where you stand with people, and whether or not those people are having a positive impact on how you feel about yourself. 

 

19. BE KIND TO YOUR BODY. 

Over the past few years, I've had to deal with health issues, which is something I'd not encountered before. It's taught me a lot of things, but mostly it's taught me that health is a kind of wealth (see: Health Is Wealth: How to Cope When You're Feeling Poorly), and you have to work hard to achieve it. While I've been very consistent about my yoga practice, I definitely need to step up my game when it comes to eating healthy food! 

 

20. YOU WILL NEVER REGRET BEING NICE.

Sometimes being nice is really, really hard. Depending on the situation, your mood, the other people involved, etc., being kind can be the most difficult choice to pick, but I've been reminded over and over again this year that you'll never regret being nice. Even when you have a completely different point of view, when you're angry or upset, being nice is the right choice. For some tips on niceness and compassion, check out:  Campaigning for Compassion: 8 Essential Tips We Need Now

 

21. MAKE THE MOST OF A BAD DAY. 

Every one of us encounters bad days from time to time, but I've discovered that most bad days are only as bad as you make them. Once things start going downhill a little bit, it's difficult not to feel like everything is going downhill, to take notice of all the little annoying things you might not think about on a good day. Over the past year, I've had a lot of stressful days, so I made this for myself: Stressful Day?: 20 Things to Add to Your To-Do List. If you're stressed, it might help you too! 

 

22. LEARN ABOUT WHAT YOU LOVE. 

"Do what you love" is one of those cliched phrases that's wonderful if you have the ability to make it happen, which isn't always the case for everyone. This year I've had to do a lot of things I don't really love, but I've realized that there's something you can also do what it comes to things you're passionate about: learn about them! There's a freedom that comes from being passion about something, and there are lots of ways to connect to it. Check out this for ideas: Finding Freedom: 6 Ways to Connect to Your Passion

 

23. DO SOMETHING NEW EVERY SO OFTEN. 

For some people, doing new things is easy, but, if you're like me and really love that comfort zone, it can be hard to push yourself out of it, but it's worth it. I've rarely looked back and thought, wow, I wish I hadn't tried that thing. Even if I hated it, it gave me an experience I'd never had before and experience really is the greatest teacher. One new thing I did this year was create and launch a new product, the Instant Insta Self-Love Card Deck, and it was so great to try something new!  

 

24. REMEMBER: IT WON'T LAST. 

The good times? They're fleeting. The bad times? Also fleeting. When things have been tough this year, I kept coming back to this concept because, whether it's a good time or a bad time (like when you're coping with a meltdown), reminding yourself of the fleeting nature of life usually brings you back to the present and allows you to either enjoy the good moment or cope more effectively with the bad. 

 

25. LOOK FOR MAGIC EVERYWHERE. 

The concept of magic has become a trend over the past few years, but I've always been drawn to it. I'm not talking about magic in the witchcraft sense (though that is fascinating too!); I'm talking about the magic of everyday things and experiences. So often we focus on some grand future moment that we're not realizing how much magic is already in and around us. This year, I've focused a lot on self-love, and part of that had to do with learning to reclaim my own magic

 

26. SHARE WHAT YOU'VE LEARNED WITH OTHERS. 

One of the reasons I started Positively Present all those years ago was so that I could share what I was learning as I was going through my own growth. I always love learning life lessons from others so it made sense that I'd want to share my own, like some of the ones I shared in How to Make Your Life Uncommonly Good. Despite our differences, we all go through a lot of the same experiences and emotions and you can create real connection with others when you share what you know. 

 

27. FEAR IS PART OF LIFE. LEARN TO SIT WITH IT. 

Like most people, I don't love being afraid. But I've faced some pretty dark moments over the past year, like when I wrote this Clearing the Clouds: How to Cope with Panic, and those difficult times have reminded me that fear is a part of life. No matter who you are, you're going to experience some fearful, panic-inducing moments, so rather than try to run from them (as I'm always tempted to do), this year I really learned to sit with my fear.  

 

28. BE GRATEFUL EVERY SINGLE DAY. 

Cheesy as this sounds, today is not guaranteed. Every day you wake up, regardless of what you wake up to, is a fresh opportunity. I've always been well-aware of the value of gratitude, but this year I started keeping a detailed gratitude list, and I think it's helped my mindset in some big ways. If you're looking for some gratitude inspiration, here are three posts I've written this year about it: 26 Things to Be Grateful For (+ a Free Download!)100 Things to Be Grateful For (Part I), and 100 Things to Be Grateful for (Part II)

 

29. GET RID OF WHAT YOU NO LONGER NEED. 

This spring, I wrote Springtime Simplifying, Sorting, + Selling while I was in the midst of getting rid of a lot of things. Not only did it feel amazing to get rid of things I no longer used or needed, I also made a good bit of extra money selling some of my things. :) For a lot of people, I know letting go of things can be challenging, but I recommend giving it a try, waiting a few days, and assessing how you feel. More often than not, you'll have completely forgotten about what you got rid of! 

 

30. APPRECIATE THE PEOPLE (AND PETS!) IN YOUR LIFE.

I'm so thankful for the people I have in my life who provide me with support, encouragement, and love. Because I've been fortunate to have a great group of people around me for most of my life, it's sometimes easy to take them for granted. Still, with the help of my gratitude list, I've been reminded daily of how lucky I am. Here are two posts about the wonderful benefits you might get from those around you: 10 Positive Benefits of Having a Sibling and The Positive Power of Pups: How Dogs Can Help You.

 

 

31. KNOW THAT YOU WILL ADAPT. 

One thing that's definitely topped my life lessons list this year: you might not think you could ever handle a certain situation / person / job / etc., but if faced with something difficult, you will be stronger than you ever thought you could be. We, as people, are pretty darn resilient, and we can adjust to new situations surprisingly well. I learned this first hand a few times this year, and shared some thoughts on it in this post: 5 Tactics for Conquering Positive Change.

 

32. DON'T HATE IT 'TIL YOU'VE TRIED IT. 

It's fine to dislike certain things, but not without having given them a fair shot. Unless something truly terrifies you, try giving it a chance. It won't kill you to try a new food or get out on the dance floor for a song or two. The minute you say, "I don't..." or "I can't..." you limit yourself. Open-mindedness is an important life skill and one I've used a lot over the past year. You can check out me lettering a piece and chatting about it here in Lettering Life Lessons: Being Open-Minded.

 

33. KEEP YOUR PERSPECTIVE IN MIND. 

If you want to make the most of your life, I've learned that it really, really helps if you try your hardest to imagine where other people are coming from. So much of what we think and experience has to do with our personal perspective (read more about the power of perspective in Sky or Screen? : The Power of Perspective.) While it's not always easy to be aware of your own perspective, practicing doing so will help you cultivate compassion and empathy, which leads to better relationships! 

 

34. EMBRACE YOUR IDIOSYNCRASIES. 

This is a lesson I find myself learning over and over again each year. There are some things I get really into (Halloween, October, dogs, rainbows, just to name a few) and not everyone gets my weird little obsessions. For the first time in a long time, this year someone called me weird (and not in the nice, jokey way!) and it really inspired me to think about what it means to embrace your weirdness. I, in fact, like being different, and I like people who are different. Embracing weirdness (and having other people around you who do the same) is actually pretty awesome! 

 

 

Whew, that's quite a long list of lessons! It's fascinating to reflect on all that I've learned since my last birthday — both new lessons and old ones brought back into the light — and I hope reading these has inspired you to think about what you've learned recently. If you have any great life lessons you'd like to share, leave them in the comments below! 

 

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