[On the fly and just want a short recap? Scroll down to “In Summary” and please come back soon!]
Guarding our mental health in today’s challenging times is often easier said than done. One mental health goal toward which we should all be striving, however, is a significant reduction of time spent around toxic, negative, unpleasant, rude, bullying, thoughtless and/or chronically grouchy people. That, unfortunately, is not always possible (think co-workers and relatives!). It is, however, worth our attention and efforts to at least minimize the negativity and toxicity generated from these unpleasant encounters.
Most of us would most likely agree that the stress, exhaustion and other fallout we suffer from toxic people can often stick with us long after the “exposure.” So when we can’t avoid such situations and people altogether (although a bit easier perhaps nowadays with social distancing), it’s important that we at least minimize the negative effects from toxic people and attitudes. This is important for many reasons including for our mental health and for the quality of our days. One way is by having a few constructive responses ready to be put into action when our days are interrupted by rotten attitudes, rude remarks or dirty looks lasered our way by toxic folks. These responses include how we respond verbally with words, physically with body language and inwardly — meaning how we let it affect us (and for how long!). We especially need to prepare ourselves for those negative scenarios we know to expect from past experience with certain co-workers, relatives and other acquaintances.
Staying in the present moment is also critical to minimizing the stress caused by and harmful effects of negative people. This means focusing on and fully living each moment at hand rather than remaining in the past or projecting too far into the future (i.e. brooding over past negative/toxic moments or fearing future ones). Our efforts to successfully minimize and detoxify any negativity around us must be done with our full attention and confidence…neither of which can exist if our heads are focused on other “stuff” from the past or in the future.
Finally, we should ask ourselves often what personal habits or traits we should change or do differently. Do we need an attitude adjustment, to rethink what our body language says with or without the help of our words? And, what about how we speak — our tone — and choice of words? A key question is what are we doing to fuel or enhance the toxicity of negative people? Or worse, are we someone that others would describe as negative or toxic to be around? It’s far easier to criticize what others are doing wrong than it is to identify, face and eliminate our bad habits or harmful ways of communicating.
Bottom Line --- Before we can fully succeed at minimizing the stress brought upon us by toxic people, we must look into that painful mirror of truth, squarely face our need-to-improve characteristics and work hard on eliminating our own negative -- maybe even toxic -- attitudes and actions. And, if we're being brutally honest with ourselves, we all have plenty of room for improvement.
- We should avoid toxic people or negative environments as best we can, but be mindful that isn't always possible to do;
- We can decide and plan in advance how we are going to handle such moments more constructively and proactively;
- By living and keeping our foothold in the present moment, we can reduce the stress brought about by hanging onto past negative memories or assuming there will be more of the same in the future; and
- We must minimize any negativity we may be bringing to the mix via our attitudes, actions, non-actions, tones or words.
I love the saying (author unknown), "We can complain because rose bushes have thorns...or...rejoice because thorns have roses." So to borrow it's concept -- We can complain repeatedly about the stress caused by negative people. Or! We can be grateful that with a little pre-planning we can minimize the effects their toxic vibes once brought into our days.