Living the average North American lifestyle can be stressful. With chronic stress comes the potential for chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and chronic fatigue syndrome (just to name a few). Of course, there are many stress management tools to choose from and lifestyle changes you could make to reduce or manage your stress levels. From daily physical activity and healthy eating to getting enough sleep, or a good belly laugh, one can make a healthful difference through lifestyle.
There is one lifestyle factor, however, that rarely gets the attention of the media and health promoters alike; healthy communication. The definition of emotional health is the ability to communicate your feelings and needs in a manner that is respectful of you and others, also known as assertive communication. When we keep our emotions to ourselves or communicate them in unhealthy ways, we invite stress into our lives and disrupt personal and professional relationships. Many times we expect people to know how we feel or what we want and become angry or resentful when we don’t get it. Assertive communication skills take practice and a healthy sense of self to achieve but in the long run, it is well worth the time and effort.
The main tenet of assertive communication is taking responsibility for your feelings without blaming others for them. The first step, however, is to be aware of what you are feeling and able to communicate this effectively. The use of “I” statements places the focus directly on you and avoids finger pointing (e.g. “I felt hurt when you didn’t greet me at the reception”). By openly acknowledging our feelings, it helps to reduce the recipient’s defences and lends itself to an open and honest dialogue (fingers crossed).
Life is stressful enough without having to deal with hurt feelings, anger and the frustration that may result from miscommunication. No one is born with the knowledge of healthy communication; you learn it from those around you. Taking the time to review, practice and build your assertive communication skills will not only reduce stress and increase the quality of your relationships, but enhance your leadership skills and help you become the change you wish to see in your family and community. For more information on healthy communication, I highly recommend the book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD. He examines the benefits of empathic listening, expression of feelings, and how to express anger in a way that doesn’t lead to a broken marriage, the silent treatment or rejected friend requests on Facebook.
Kathi Cameron holds a masters degree in Exercise and Health Psychology and is an author and speaker on topics related to health promotion. She has over 20 years of experience as a trainer and coach in realistic health behaviour change.