“One of the things with stress is we start to disconnect from our authentic self and disconnect from other people,” said Heller. Finding ways to lower your stress and your friend’s will help both of you work more clearly through your specific challenges.
Heller recommends an exercise where you think of your favorite thing to do or a loved one in your life for 20 to 30 seconds and notice what happens to your body. This simple act of directing your awareness away from the traumatic event or stressful conversation actually induces a relaxation response. “It gives you a little break, it helps your autonomic nervous system process and discharge stress when you touch into the stress a little bit and touch into a resource (a favorite memory or person),” she explained.
You can hold this positive experience for more than 30 seconds or do this multiple times a day. Over time Heller explained, this experience could create new neural pathways in the brain and elicit a psychological shift from negative to positive. She said it goes beyond changing the way the brain experiences the stressor, it also regulates the nervous system, “it gets a chance to discharge the overarousal from stress related to the event you’re talking about.”
While you could practice this before, during, or after an interaction with a friend or on your own, you can also see if your friend would be interested in trying it out. If they would like to give it a try, ask them questions like, “What is in your life you find you really love or who in your life do you love?” These prompts could help them move into a positive state and give their nervous systems a break.
As helpful as the practices we’ve covered can be, there are situations where it is necessary for you or a friend to seek professional help. You’ll want to remind yourself and your friend that their advice cannot take the place of professional therapy or doctor’s visit. If you are willing and able you can offer to drive a friend to their appointment or encourage them to seek help. Whether you’re experiencing this in your friendships or not, chances are there will be a time and it’s great to be prepared.