5 Tips for Living With a Stressful Person

At a Glance

Having stressful people in your life can be emotionally draining. You can’t control what other people say or do, but you can take steps to prepare yourself for these interactions and manage your responses to them in a way that preserves your well-being and your relationships.

Learning how to manage stressful people in your life is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health. At times, we’ve all had to deal with co-workers, bosses, friends, and even family members who bring their stress into our lives. 

Dealing with so-called “difficult people” causes us emotional stress, which research has shown time and time again can negatively affect the health of our minds and bodies.

We can’t always avoid people who stress us out, and we may even be living with stressful people at times. But there are things we can do to protect our well-being as we interact with them. 

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How to Manage People Who Stress You Out

We all have daily stressors. Some of them are expected or even routine, but others come out of nowhere and take us by surprise. 

We have to deal with some level of stress every day, and for the most part, we just do this automatically. 

However, there are also times when dealing with stress requires more of our attention and effort. One example is dealing with “toxic” people in our lives.

Whether their actions are frustrating, cruel, or just plain negative, there are five steps you can take to manage stressful people in your life.

1. Be Proactive

If you’ve dealt with a stressful person before, you probably have some idea of what to expect when you encounter them again. In fact, you might even be able to predict what they’ll do pretty accurately. 

You can use your knowledge of their past behavior to decide what you are going to do to deal with them in the present and the future.

Be proactive about your response to this person. Decide before you have to interact with them how you want to handle the situation and stick to that plan. 

You might find making this decision is easier than dwelling in fear or negativity before you encounter this person, and you might actually feel less stressed out knowing you’ve got a plan. 

Here’s an example. Let’s say that you know you have a meeting with your boss on Monday morning bright and early. You know that your boss tends to talk over you, which makes you anxious and frustrated. You also know that if you don’t come prepared with everything you want to talk about, you may “clam up” in the moment.

So, before you leave work on Friday, sit down and make a list of all the things you want to discuss. You could even email this list to your boss ahead of time to make it easier for you both to be on the same page.

When you leave work, try to really leave work behind. Take the weekend to rest and calm your mind as much as you can. Try not to stress about what might or might not happen.

2. Control Your Reaction

Have you ever heard the saying that a person who does not care has tremendous power? There are times in life when simply letting something go or “roll off your back” is a kind of personal superpower that protects you.

If someone’s actions or words are upsetting you, stop and ask yourself, “Why do I care?”

You might find that deep down…you really don’t. Or at least, not in the much bigger picture of your day and even your whole life. 

You cannot change or control people. The only power you have is changing how you react to them. 

Taking your response and reaction into your own hands gives you the power to protect yourself. Sometimes, it actually “disarms” the other person. By not giving them a reaction, you’re taking their power over you away. 

Here’s an example. Let’s say your mom tends to be a little critical of your fashion choices. Maybe you feel like you’ve been having the same arguments with her since you were a teen. 

The next time you get together and she makes a sarcastic remark about your sweater or puts on a big show out of sneezing at your perfume when she goes in for a hug—just let her.

Don’t let your usual knee-jerk reaction of getting defensive or exasperated with her behavior take over. You don’t have to address the comment at all. You can just say, “It’s so nice to see you” and move on to the next topic of conversation. Or, if you feel like you have to acknowledge what was said, remember that you don’t have to match her negative tone. 

So, instead of snapping back at her when she comments on the sweater, you could just say, “I got a great deal on it!” 

3. Don’t Get on Their Emotional Bus

Stressful people will try to get you to go on an emotional ride with them. They get angry, you get angry, then the yelling starts. They get sad, you get sad, and then you’re all crying. 

Just because they’ve offered you a seat doesn’t mean you have to get on their emotional bus. You can listen and supportively communicate, but don’t let them control you by triggering unnecessary negative emotions.

For example, maybe your best friend always texts you about the drama they have to deal with at work. You hate the thought of your friend’s boss and coworkers taking advantage of them at work, and you may even get mad and tense over it.

The next time you get a text with the whole story, just let your friend vent. You can be an active and supportive listener but try to keep your feelings in check. And if the text comes at the wrong time and you just don’t feel like you can avoid getting sucked in, text back and say, “Hey! Just letting you know I saw your text and am not ignoring you—just want to come back to it when I can be present!” 

4. Know Your Needs and Goals

If you have an upcoming meeting with a stressful person, make sure that you establish before what you need from the interaction or what your goals are. 

Keep those objectives in mind throughout the ebb and flow of the conversation. Use it as an anchor to stay on an even keel in the sea of feelings, or as a compass to help bring the talk back to your goals. 

And if you didn’t get your needs met in the end? At the very least, you’ve learned how to navigate your interactions with this person in a way that helps you avoid becoming overwhelmed. 

For example, remember your meeting with your boss on Monday? If you prepared and got yourself in the right headspace and it still didn’t go the way you planned, that’s OK. Take note of what didn’t work or what wasn’t helpful, and jot down a reminder for next time. 

5. Don’t Dwell

When you’ve just gotten out of an interaction with a stressful person, you might be tempted to “think it over” and try to “debrief” with yourself about how it went. 

As tempted as it is to stew in your thoughts and feelings, don’t dwell on what happened. If things went badly, do your best to figure out how to fix what didn’t work, or just move on. 

If you take a step back, you’ll realize that the stressful person is very unlikely to be thinking about you or the interaction you just had at all. In fact, they’ve probably already given a ticket for their emotional bus to someone else.

Don’t let a stressful interaction ruin the rest of your day. Learn from your experience and make a plan for the next time you are in that situation. Then, let it go and take some time to recover with a little self-care. 

So, while that meeting with your boss wasn’t as successful as you hoped, chances are it was still valuable. You probably came away with some knowledge about what to avoid in the future when you’re interacting with them, and you might have figured out a few things that were helpful that you’d like to remember for next time. 

For example, maybe they were grateful that you sent that email with your talking points—even if you didn’t get to talk about everything. 

Managing Your Stress

After you’ve had a stressful interaction with someone, it’s important to practice self-care. If you don’t already have a go-to de-stress plan, here are a few self-care tips to keep in mind when you’re recovering from dealing with someone who stresses you out:

  • Take a break. If you live or work with someone who tends to bring stress into your life, there might be times when you just get too overwhelmed and would benefit from a little space. For example, running an errand will get you out of the house if you need a break from a family member, and taking a walk on your lunch break at work can get you out of the office. Even if it’s only a few minutes, a little distance can go a long way when you’re dealing with someone stressful.
  • Relax. Try to find activities that help you decompress and seek them out when you’re feeling overcome by someone else’s stress. It could be something physical like going for a run or hitting the gym or a quiet activity like reading a book or watching your favorite movie. Taking a warm bath or shower can also help relieve any physical tension you might have on top of the emotional tension from a stressful interaction.
  • Reach out for support. Remember that you’re not alone. If you’re consistently getting stressed out by someone in your life and you’re having a hard time coping, it’s important to get support. You may have someone in your life who isn’t a source of stress and who can lend a listening ear, but you may also benefit from talking to a pro. If your partner or a family member is the source of stress, you may find that a therapist is an excellent resource for both of you.

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