5 powerful tips for managing conflict in social situations

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Whether it’s a meeting at work or a family dynamic that conjures up concern around the possibility of clashes, here are five effective ways you can proactively manage tough conversations and situations

1. Assume the best

5 powerful tips for managing conflict in social situations

It’s easy to talk ourselves into fearing a situation, and expecting the worst, even when we have no evidence that things will play out as we imagine. However, by catastrophising and anticipating conflict we’re telling ourselves that we’re about to be in danger, and our mind and body will then react as if that is true.

Intercept anticipatory negative thoughts as they enter your mind by asking yourself: ‘Do I know this to be true?’ If the answer is no, ask yourself how you would like the conversation or event to play out instead.

2. Set intentions

You can’t manage how other people will communicate or react, but you can present yourself in a way that you are proud of. By writing down how you will behave and communicate, you’re setting positive intentions that will help you manage your interactions. Read through your intentions again before your meet-up, so they’re fresh in your mind.

3. Put in a pause

If you believe that the situation is going south, you don’t have to passively slide down the slippery route to conflict! Putting a pause in the middle of proceedings can really help.

This is situation dependent, but if things feel like they’re escalating into unproductive territory, simply say: “I really want to continue this conversation. I just need to go to the bathroom/grab some water/blow my nose, and when I get back, let’s talk about this further.”

While you’re away from the discussion, slow your breathing down, making each exhale longer than the inhale, and remember the intentions you’ve set for yourself. When you re-enter the discussion, thank the person for waiting for you – hopefully, tension will have dissipated and tempers will calm.

4. Stay grounded

If verbal conflict should arise, physically ground yourself by placing both feet flat on the floor, and by keeping your breathing steady. Avoid interrupting the other person, and take a breath before you speak, both of which can help to prevent the conversation from escalating into a rally of positional points.

If you believe that the situation cannot be rectified at that moment, say so, and be clear about how you wish to be treated and proceed. This doesn’t have to be combative. You could try: “It seems that we disagree on this. I respect you, and I think it would be great for us both to have some time to think about what we’ve shared. Shall we give each other a bit of time and space to process the discussion, and chat again in a couple of days?”

5. You’re safe and loved

Conflict, or even the anticipation of conflict, can make us feel shaky and off-centre. Take some time to ‘come down’ after your interaction. If you can, take a walk outdoors and use the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method – focus on five t

What is secondhand stress and how do I get rid of it?

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Studies have shown that stress can be contagious. So, how do we get rid of – or avoid altogether – secondhand stress, before we start to feel overwhelmed?

What is secondhand stress and how do I get rid of it?

Stress. It can be overwhelming, can’t it? As a nation, as many as one in four (74%) of us have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope in the past year, according to figures from the Mental Health Foundation. With feelings of stress often surrounding financial worries, relationship difficulties, and feelings of being overworked and underappreciated, unfortunately, it’s not just our own stress that’s keeping us up at night.

Research has shown that thanks to emotional contagion, it’s possible for us to ‘catch’ stress, anxiety, and other emotions from others. Just watching someone else showing classic signs of stress can be enough to trigger a stress response in us, which can lead to further feelings of exhaustion, worry, and even starting to avoid certain colleagues, friends, family, and loved ones.

So, what can we do to spot the signs of secondhand stress before it starts to take hold of us? And how can we get rid of secondhand stress for good?

What is secondhand stress and anxiety?

The terms secondhand stress and secondhand anxiety refer to when you feel stressed or anxious because someone else is showing signs of stress or anxiety. Essentially, our minds and bodies are wired to keep an eye out for potential danger or threats. When we see someone else having a stress or anxiety reaction, we unconsciously can end up mimicking this, as a natural form of self-defence.

We’re able to pick up secondhand stress by seeing others’ facial expressions, hearing their voice frequency, and even picking up on specific scents or touches. What’s more, we’re more likely to experience secondhand stress from someone we know, rather than a stranger – meaning our colleague’s stress levels, and how they react to and express those feelings of stress, can have a serious impact on us.

How do you know if someone is stressing you out?

There are a number of different signs and symptoms of stress that we can keep an eye out for. These can include emotional symptoms (feeling frustrated, quick to anger, anxious, overwhelmed, teary, or avoiding others or social situations) or physical symptoms (trouble sleeping, feeling dizzy, excessive sweating, chest pains or palpitations, digestive problems, or seeking comfort from food, drugs or alcohol). But there are also signs you can keep an eye out for, that can indicate that being around someone else may be causing you secondhand stress.

These can include:

  • Stress eating or drinking when they are around (e.g. eating more when you’re around someone, as a way to self-soothe or cope with how you are feeling).
  • Checking your phone or avoiding eye contact while talking to others. This can be a sign that you are feeling uncomfortable with what is being shared, or are experiencing feelings of stress and overwhelm (though it’s worth noting that not everyone is

Michelle Elman on how to relieve the unfair burden of ‘survivor’s guilt’

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Going through a traumatic illness or experience is unimaginably difficult – so making it through the other side is something to celebrate, right? But what people often struggle to vocalise is the confusing mixture of feelings that accompany this, and the burden of guilt that can, unfairly, weigh heavy on you

Michelle Elman on how to relieve the unfair burden of ‘survivor’s guilt’

I remember the first time I heard the words ‘survivor’s guilt’. It caught my attention because it was finally a phrase that I could put to how I had been feeling for the last decade of my life.

For a little context, I’ve had 15 surgeries and, in many ways, shouldn’t have survived. If I had been born a few years earlier, or in a family with less financial privilege to afford the medical care I did, I would not be alive, and I have been acutely aware of that fact since the age of 11.

The problem is, at 11, it is a very adult problem to have when you are still very much a child, and with the limitations of the vocabulary of a child, and the confusion that comes with not being able to articulate how you feel. At 11 years old, I had been in the ICU for three months, and because the ICU was where the most ill children were in the hospital, I witnessed more deaths of children from six months to 15 years old than one should ever experience, and as each death occurred, it often made me wonder why I was still here. Why was I surviving? What was so special about me?

The only way I found to console myself at that age was to tell myself that I would do my best to compensate for those lives by spending my own trying to help as many people as humanly possible… I hoped that it would make up for it, and decided to never vocalise this guilt.

As much as it’s called survivor’s guilt, there are many other emotions encompassed in it, and the other main one was shame. Shame breeds silence, and so this became my deep dark secret, and ultimately led to me working so hard to overcompensate for all the lives lost.

I was often told in hospital ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ and this made the guilt so much worse. It forced me to try to make meaning out of something that has no meaning and doesn’t make sense. When someone tells you that everything happens for a reason, and you can’t find one, you begin to believe the reason is you, and that’s where the blame comes, along with the shame. Survivor’s guilt is nonsensical. Logically and rationally, you can understand you did not do anything to cause their death, but emotionally, it feels unjust and unfair.

What I wish someone had told me back then was that it was not my responsibility. It was not my fault that others had died and I had lived and, most of all, no one should have to earn their right to life. The fact is there is nothing special about me. There isn’t a reason why I survived and others didn’t, and the most peace I have found is understanding that sometimes shitty things happen, and not everything has a reason or a purpose.

I only began processing all of this while writing my first book, Am I Ugly?, and discussing it in depth meant I finally put words to how I’d felt for decades, and those wo

Seasonal friendships: how to find closure when companionship comes to an end

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Is it OK for BFFs to not actually last forever?

Seasonal friendships: how to find closure when companionship comes to an end

There’s a saying about friendships that goes something like this: ‘We have three types of friends: friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime.’ Of course, there are no hard and fast rules about these sorts of things, but clearly, the sentiment resonates. So let’s talk about it. Specifically, let’s talk about perhaps the trickiest one: friends for a season. The idea behind this is that some friends are right for a period of our life. Maybe it’s for months, maybe years, but there’s a beginning and an end to the relationship.

And, apparently, it’s not an uncommon experience. According to a UK poll by Disney, the average friendship lasts for 17 years. Another study from researchers from Aalto University in Finland, and the University of Oxford, took a look at the ways that friendships evolve throughout our lives. In order to do so, they reviewed data from three million phone users to identify the frequency and patterns of who they were contacting, and when, as well as overall activity within their networks. What they found was that men and women tended to make more friends – being ‘socially promiscuous’ – up until the age of 25. After that, the researchers saw a drop in the number of friends people had.

Many of us will go through life entering different eras – school, work, university, moving away, starting a family, changing jobs, picking up new interests – we evolve with time, and sometimes the friendships that were so valuable to us are not, or cannot be, fulfilling. Sometimes they end with a confrontation, sometimes they just quietly fade away. Either way, the end of a friendship isn’t something we’re overly accustomed to, making them difficult to deal with. But we have some advice to help you navigate these times.

Is there a right way to end a friendship?

Yes, and also no. If a friendship just fizzles out over time, with no ill-wishes, perhaps simply because you’ve become different people with different priorities, and there are no burning questions or unfulfilled needs from either party, then there’s not necessarily anything wrong with just letting it be.

But when it comes to ending a friendship that has turned sour – perhaps because they overstep your new boundaries, or a change in priorities or lifestyle has caused disagreements – you may need to take a more direct approach.

The same rules for confrontation that apply to romantic relationships work here. Try to approach the person when you are not at the height of your emotions, so you can remain calm. Use ‘I’ statements to express how you feel – for example, ‘I feel like my boundaries are not being respected,’ rather than ‘You always cross the line.’ You can go into detail if you need to, and be willing to answer questions if you can. But if the conversation turns hostile or aggressive, know that you’re under no obligation to remain in it. And then, like with a romantic relationship, make it clear what you want to do next, for example: ‘I think it would be best if we didn’t see each other anymore.’

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Art imitating life: exploring art therapy and its benefits on our wellbeing

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Paintings, photography, sculptures, and scrapbooks – how can art be used to support us through difficult times?

Art imitating life: exploring art therapy and its benefits on our wellbeing

In the 20th century, tuberculosis was a big problem in the UK, claiming countless lives, and seeing many others confined to sanatoriums. As you might expect, this would have been a frightening and frustrating time, but among the sickness and sadness, doctors observed that patients who drew and painted were better able to cope with both their illness, and their stay at the hospitals. The practice quickly spread and, in 1964, the British Association of Art Therapists was founded.

From 1948 until he retired in 1981, Edward Adamson became the first artist to be employed by the NHS. When Edward first began his work, people living with mental health problems did not have rights, and were subjected to brutal treatment. But Edward saw another way forward. For him, art therapy was about creative expression – not evidence to pass on to psychiatrists to be analysed – but art for art’s sake, and for healing. In his lifetime, Edward gathered more than 5,000 works of art from his patients, from drawing to ceramics, sculptures to paintings, preserved today by the Adamson Collection Trust.

Painting a picture

These days, the NHS states that there are more than 4,400 registered art therapists in the UK, including art, drama, and music therapists, like Chloe Sparrow.

“I remember so clearly what it was like to experience really big feelings, but not have the vocabulary, or confidence, to talk about it,” Chloe says. “For me, art psychotherapy offered a bridge between those big feelings and the expression of those feelings. Being able to express ourselves, and feel understood by another, feels like such a healing human experience. Combining that with one of my great loves, art, feels like such a privilege and pleasure.

“Art psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy practised by qualified, registered art psychotherapists,” she explains. “It can provide you with an opportunity to use artmaking to explore issues or themes that are relevant and personal to you, and can be used to explore a wide range of difficulties.

“You don’t need to be ‘good’ at art in order to benefit from art psychotherapy. The purpose of the artmaking is to facilitate personal growth, and a greater understanding of the self, and you may find that particular themes begin to emerge through the colours, shapes, and concepts, in your artwork.”

Chloe explains how, in most sessions, the therapist will provide you with a variety of art materials and options that you can then pick from. With this as your starting point, you might work from a prompt provided by the therapist or, instead, approach your work with pure creativity and spontaneity. From there, there may then be time for discussion and reflection though, of course, the precise structure of a session will be entirely unique from person to person.

Art imitating life: exploring art therapy and its benefits on our wellbeing

The focus point

When it comes to therapy, one size really doesn’t fit all, and art therapy offers a positive alternative.

“Because art psychotherapy combines psychotherapeutic techniques with cre