My officer is currently under much more stress at work than normal. He is usually a pretty laid back guy, but this year I have watched him become stressed out a lot of the time. My brain wants to either go into problem solving mode on how to help him or to become as stressed as he is and match the intensity of his emotional state. This behavior is called mirroring and is actually a way to show empathy. It is why when a friend or spouse is n an intensely good or really bad mood we tend to join in on whichever emotional state they are in. The problem is that mirroring someone else’s stress and anxiety is not helpful for either of you.
The least helpful thing we can do is try to help them get out of their stress or anxiety as soon as possible. Nothing feels worse when you are anxious then someone pressuring you to stop feeling anxious. The most helpful thing we can do is normalize their feelings and let them know we are here to hold space for them to feel and do whatever they need during stressful times. We can also learn to give ourselves that same grace and allow the feelings we have about our spouse being stressed out. Here are some thoughts that have helped me in regards to seeing my husband going through stress and anxiety.
“Nothing has gone wrong here. My husband’s stress and anxiety make sense given what is going on right now”
“I am capable of allowing him to feel any emotion and to be in any mood today. I don’t need to “fix” how he feels.”
“All that is going on is part of the experience of being a human. There are times of peace and joy and times of tribulation. It will not be like this forever”
“I am so grateful for my husband and I can have a good day even if he needs to feel negative feelings today.”
“I am going to show up as the best version of myself today, because I love me and I love my spouse”
We need to give them judgement free space to feel and process what they need to. We can certainly ask them if we can support them, but not from a place of wanting them to change.
It helps to remind yourself that feelings are just vibrations in the body and they aren’t dangerous. It is ok for humans to feel negative emotions. Find ways to support yourself and have purpose in your daily life. I think most of the time we hear about what actions to take to reduce stress, but we don’t think about just allowing ourselves or others to be anxious or stressed. You may find it to be less intense when there isn’t pressure to “get happy” again right away.