Relationship Stress Does Real Harm

Stress can kill a relationship. Now, research shows it can affect life expectancy, too. Middle-aged people’s mortality risk goes up when they are in stressful relationships, according to a recent issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Researchers in the University of Copenhagen reached their findings after following nearly 10,000 adults for 11 years. Their study revealed that anxiety and demands related to a significant other or children increased mortality rates, especially in men. This finding is noteworthy because it contradicts the common assumption that women are more vulnerable to family stress.

Study participants who rated themselves as “always” having conflicts in any relationship–including family, friends or even neighbors–were associated with a mortality risk that increased two to three times. This is particularly important for women, since research shows that women tend to have larger social networks.

Unemployed study participants had an even larger mortality risk. The research did not measure personality, which can have a strong impact on stress, relationships and how they are perceived.

5 Ways to Shun Stress, Not People

In attempts to evade stress, it is a mistake to avoid social interaction, because isolation can be physically and mentally harmful, too. Instead, improve communication and set limits to decrease anxiety and manage or prevent conflict. Here are ways to help that happen:

  1. Communicate with “I” statements, not “you” statements. This increases your effectiveness and by decreasing the listeners’ guardedness and feeling blamed.
  2. Talk about problems as they happen, instead of holding onto anger and resentment. Continuing to let frustration build can lead to a bigger argument and undisciplined expressions of emotions.
  3. Make specific requests. For example, instead of “I need you to do more around the house,” try “Can you please help with the dishes after dinner?” Also, avoid generalizations (“You never help”), absolutes, accusations or insults.
  4. Watch your tone of voice and body language. They have a big impact how the other person perceives what you say.
  5. Encourage mutual understanding. Actively listen to the other person. Make eye contact and nod to show you are listening. Summarize what the other person said and request clarification, if necessary.

Get a handle on your stress at our 10-week stress-reduction program. It meets one evening per week from 6 to 7 p.m. at 1981 Marcus Avenue in Lake Success, NY.

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