Stress isn’t just something we should deal with by ourselves. This is about stress and the people around us and how we can help them be less stressed.
I’ve been writing about how to deal with our own stress, but also how it’s the world that stresses us out too and what we can do about that. This one is about what we can all do for the people around us when we’re all having a bit of a shit time.
We’ll chat about how not being in control of our lives makes us feel rubbish. Why it is that we don’t like uncertainty. Then I’ll help you think of ideas for how you can help others to counteract these things.
Not being in control
So have a look at this graph again (you might have filled this in already if you read the last article about this).
If you look at the list of things that stress you out I bet that a lot of them are to do with things happening to you that are not in your control.
- Sudden Urge to Get Away from Oral
- I’m Not Feeling Pleasure, Is That Normal?
- How To Worry
- How the Big Porn Companies Treat Their Viewers
Consent and control
Stress where we are in control is fine, and it’s actually quite helpful. Playing sports, or gaming, or going to a theme park, or seeing a scary film, all raise your stress levels. You are consenting to this stress and you have control over when you do it and when it ends, so it’s chill. There are some stresses where we aren’t entirely in control but a bit of stress is okay and manageable. For example, seeing if someone wants to go on a date, asking for something we want, or telling someone something important about ourselves.
It’s situations where you aren’t in control that are the most stressful. Where things happen to you without your consent. Like the risk of getting coronavirus, and other illnesses. Not knowing if you can feed yourself. Or people around you getting ill. Worrying about if you are pregnant or have an STI (though of course you can go to a service about those). Perhaps being abused by someone. Someone shaming or stigmatising you. Being gaslit by someone. Other people not respecting your space or needs at home. Not feeling safe being in public by yourself. Being criticised, threatened, or violated just because of who you are.
We all have to deal with something happening to us that we didn’t want (but of course, some people experience this more than others). But what can we do to help the people around us? It’s to do the opposite, give people more control over their lives. It’s to do things with others, not at them. The answer is more freedom and more choice – more consent. If we have it, we should share it out. Governments, organisations, and communities have this power, but we can also do this with the people around us too.
How do we do with the people around us
During this Covid-19 pandemic people have been stressed because they don’t know if they have got it, will get it, or how they will get help if they do get it. Feeling out of control. Nearly all of us have been obeying the rules of social distancing so that we and the people around us feel safer. In most areas people have also done loads to help support each other too.
Being Part of a Network
In my area everyone has got together and created a network where we can all chip in to help each other. If I get ill and can’t leave my flat, I know that there’s a long list of people who would be able to drop off some food, get medicine, or even be around if I wanted a virtual chat. My name is also on this (huge) list in case anyone needs me to step up. We don’t really know each other that well, but we are all there for each other. It’s a mutual aid network and I hope it carries on once COVID-19 pisses off. We can all feel a bit more in control as we know people can help us.
Getting involved in your community
So this is one thing you might already be doing during the pandemic (yay, go you). But can you see how we can all be doing this all the time, not just with friends but also just with other people we might go to school with, or be friends of friends with, or just know around our ends or in supportive online communities. Maybe it’s helping spaces to be more inclusive and friendly to people who are left out. Could you stand up to, or report, bullying when you see it happening to someone else. Perhaps you and your mates have already done things like sponsored runs, or car washes, or some other good deed to raise money or awareness for something.
All of these are examples of where we can use our collective power (also known as agency*) to help other people to have as much freedom as we do. It can be small or big, but if you are working in a way to increase someone else’s capacity to choose (including giving them the support they ask for or need) then you are doing good in the world.
(*See this module from my Teach Yourself Sex Ed course which is about agency and ‘the self’. It’s free and a million times better than anything you get at school. Try it!)
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People nearer to us
With people closer to us we can do more than offer to run errands to help them stay alive (although that would be great too). You could offer support to mates but, crucially, find out what kind of support they need first. If you can’t give them what they need (because you have your own limits and boundaries too) then that’s fine, but don’t give them what they don’t need just to make you feel better. I’ve written more about how to support someone here.
Stress at home
Remind yourself of the biology of how stress works here. When people are stressed they need some time to recover, so if people are stressed out remember that you will need to give them time, space, and kindness. If you live with people (which is likely) remember that everyone around you is getting stressed at some point. This means that you can help them by giving them the time and space to destress, rather than just get stressed at them. We all need time outs and places just to go and sit. It’s often better to do that rather than get into an argument.
Also, just do your bit around the house without being asked please. Put the cheese back in the fridge. Roll your socks up and put them in the drawer. Use the bog brush once in a while. People need time and space to relax and destress. They can’t do that if they are picking up after your shit all day. You being tidy gives other people more agency, more control, less stress.
With friends try to maximise your choices so that everyone can agree what they want to do – and feel in control. If you’re watching TV together how can you make decisions together about what might be fun to watch and how you want to watch it (hate watching is a legitimate way to watch many shows in my opinion). Where are you going to meet up for your socially distanced hangout? Do you want to have video chat, or phone chat, or text chat? Are you banning chatting about politics or coronavirus? Do you just want to have silly fun times, or serious times, or a balance of both?
Try the being friends board game
Now is the time to be trying to do more consent chats with each other. Talking about the process of how you want to do something as well as what it is you want to do. There’s a huge amount of #content on this website about sex and consent, but consent is not just about sex.
Read how to talking about talking
Try to give each other as much decision making power as possible. Give each other an ‘in’ as well as an ‘out’. By doing that you can help the people around you to feel more control over their decisions because you are making them together. You’re not going to take away everyone’s stress because, the world stresses us out, but you will at least be taking away some of the other daily stresses that people have.
Find out how to be really good at relationships.
© Justin Hancock, 2022
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If you’re over 18 and really into sex ed I have a podcast you might like called Culture Sex Relationships.
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here