Pat LaDouceur, PhD, helps people dealing with anxiety, panic, and relationship stress who want to feel more focused and confident. She has a private practice
Do you ever feel stressed out about the demands of day-to-day life?
My clients Ava and Leo were doing their best to balance high-pressure jobs with the needs of two school-aged kids and time for themselves.
Their work got done, and well. But the number of tasks they juggled every day made it hard to stay connected to the people they cared about most – their daughters, their friends, and each other. They started feeling less like marriage partners and more like roommates, and weren’t sure how to stop the sense of drifting apart.
They talked about big solutions — a vacation, or a series of Friday night dates. These were great ideas. In reality, though, it’s often the smallest actions that create the most extraordinary results.
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Let’s look at a few simple ways to reduce stress and reconnect.
The remarkable power of touch
Touch is a powerful way to connect. Research shows that touch from someone you trust can reduce pain and boost your immune system. Other studies show that touch releases oxytocin, and thereby fosters a sense of belonging and connection.
The power of touch goes beyond affecting personal relationships.NBA basketball teams whose players touch each other more win more games.
Touch bymedical doctors makes doctor visits seem longer, and increases the chances of survival for people with complicated diseases.
When librarians touch the hand or arm of a student during the checkout process, the student is more likely to return to the library, and more likely to report the library time as enjoyable.
Touch, at the right moment and in the right way, can reduce stress, enhance healing, and ease your mind.
The thought that counts
Another way to connect is by making small, positive gestures — gestures let people know that they matter.
It’s not so much what you do (although that is important); it’s that you thought about doing something. A gesture might be voicing a simple appreciation, sending good wishes, or taking a few minutes to listen to a friend’s problem even when you’re tired. It could come in the form of a comment, a note, a text, or even a small gift.
It can take any form, as long as it’s meaningful to the person receiving it.
Make connection a habit
B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, takes touch and gestures to a new level by helping people create life-changing (and organization-changing) habits. The habits themselves are small, but are designed to change personal and business relationships in a big way.
He’s helped over 3,000 people to create change in 30 seconds or less. Among the most powerful habits are those that affect relationships. He has helped people design habits like these:
- After I get my car keys, I will hug my daughter goodbye.
- When I walk in the door after work, I will kiss my husband.
- As soon as I open my browser in the morning, I will send an email to a friend.
- When I leave for lunch, I will text my wife.
Once an action is identified, it needs to be repeated, ideally at least once a day. These patterns of touch and gesture can lead to powerful relationship change.
A 3-step process
Here’s how you can create a relationship-enhancing habit for yourself. First take a few minutes to think of someone with whom you’d like to feel more connected. Now..
- Decide whether you’d like to connect with touch or words.
- Create an action that you can repeat at least daily, preferably one that takes less than a minute.
- Do it every day for a week.
Notice how you feel. If you like the results, continue your action for another week. If you’re not sure, then think of a new habit and try that one for a week instead. After a few months, when your action is happening automatically, without needing to think about it, add another one.
Leo’s simple action was to text his wife from work, every day. It took just a few minutes to write the text and push the send button.
It wasn’t the first action he had tried, but it was the one that worked. Their relationship started to shift. Ava was touched by the message, but even more by the consistency. Leo remembered, every day, and Ava knew that she was on his mind. She could tell that he cared.
For Leo, the result was even more powerful. He felt better about the relationship — no surprise here. But he also felt less stressed at work. He laughed more during the day and fell asleep more easily at night.
Can simple gestures shift a relationship? If you choose well and act consistently, they can.
Try it and see. After a week of practice (remember, that’s a minute a day!), notice what happens — not just with the other person, but within yourself. Relationship habits build connection with other people, but also change the way you feel.
Relationship habits are, in fact, the fastest way to boost your mood.
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