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  • 5 Ways Social Behavior Affects Your Stress and Pain

    socializing with friends

    The community we inhabit and the way we inhabit it can have a huge impact on both our stress and pain levels. If you’ve ever been the outsider, the new kid, the apple that’s fallen far from your family’s tree, or anything similar you know just how much those things can affect you.

    The Company You Keep Matters

    But it’s not always a matter of simply acclimating or adjusting to those around you and being accepted. It’s also a matter of your own behavior and attitude. And your behavior and attitude is hugely influenced by the people you hang around with.

    There’s a popular Jim Rohn quote that says “you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. Try as you might to deny it, it’s true. I’ve experienced it myself. When I worked with people who did nothing but complain and lived with someone who was also a complainer, I also complained a lot. But once my working and living arrangements changed, I found myself complaining a whole lot less. This was all before my quest for personal growth had begun, so I wasn’t making any conscious effort on my part to be more positive. I happened to be spending time with more positive people and became more positive myself, not all at once mind you… it’s definitely a slower process if you’re not actively working at it.

    Complaining (as opposed to a one-time vent) is a great, albeit unintentional, way of hanging onto life’s difficulties and stressors, and definitely ratchets up your stress level. And as I’ve covered several times, higher stress levels usually equate to higher pain levels. But complaining isn’t the only social behavior that affects our stress and pain. There are several.

    Here are 5 of the most common:

    1. Helping others – Do you help others when you can, or do you only look out for yourself? I’m not talking about putting on your own proverbial oxygen mask before assisting others, that’s absolutely necessary. I’m talking about being helpful instead of self-centered; there’s a huge difference. Helping others, whether it’s volunteering at a soup kitchen, helping an elderly or disabled neighbor/relative with house/yard work, paying it forward, helping someone with a door, or any other way of assisting someone, lowers the stress response in the body. The key is to do it from your heart, not from a place of feeling like you have to. Doing something because you feel you have to will only invoke the stress response… not help calm it.
    2. Harmony/peace – Do you promote peace and harmony with your words and actions? Or do you spread conflict and/or leave the aftermath of verbal or physical abuse in your wake? Do you hang around people who value peace over conflict? I hope I don’t need to tell you that peace and harmony have a much greater positive impact on stress and pain levels than conflict does. So if you have to take a few deep breaths or even wait a few minutes before responding to a statement or situation, it’s totally worth it.
    3. Social support – Research shows time and again that people who have a strong network of support have fewer stress related complications and lower pain levels than those who don’t. If you don’t have a supportive network, it’s time to start building one. Start with one person you can turn to and gradually build your new network from there. Here’s a hint, though: you need to do it without prematurely rushing the intimacy and trust that you need for true support. So, if that one person happens to be a counselor, that’s fine.  Hopefully you already have at least one person in your current network that is supportive, in which case… great. Just remember, you don’t have to share everything with everyone. Be selective, and don’t share difficulties with those who aren’t supportive or, even worse, who will tear you down when you need to be buoyed up.
    4. Treated as normal/equal – Do friends and family treat you as an equal or do they seem to only keep you around to do things for them? Do they require you to jump through a bunch of hoops just to get a modicum of approval? If you don’t meet their expectations, are you criticized? If your social circle doesn’t accept you for who you are, and especially if they’re not shy about letting you know all the ways you don’t measure up, it’s time to find a new social circle. Not that it’s easy to just up and create a whole new circle of friends and surrogate family, but it in the end it’s a whole lot easier than living your life trying to make everyone else happy or living up to everyone else’s expectations without regard to who you really are and what makes you happy. You don’t need research (but the research is out there) to know that it’s much less stressful to be accepted for who you are than to pretend to be someone you’re not. And less stress means lowered pain levels.
    5. Tolerant/flexible – Now it’s time to turn the microscope back to yourself. Are you tolerant of others’ differences? Are you flexible when things don’t go your way? Are you a “live and let live” kind of person, or are you more the “my way or the highway” type? I hope this doesn’t come as a big shock to you, but people who are more willing to accept others for who they are and are more flexible about trying new things (food, activities, work processes/locations, general routines, etc.) are happier, less stressed, and have lower overall pain levels than those who are intolerant and demanding.

    I’m not saying that any of these is going to be easy to get a handle on, but I will say it’s worth it. Just a little bit of progress can give you the encouragement you need to stick with it.

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