Can “I” Get a Little Attention-Communicating When Your Mood is Less than Ideal

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Communication is challenging when you are experiencing stress, overwhelm, and mental illness. In fact, communication can be tricky even when you are feeling well. 

Maybe this sounds familiar:

  • The people around you aren’t listening or understanding what you are saying.
  • You are using your words appropriately but you can’t manage to keep both your verbal and nonverbal communication calm and respectful at the same time.
  • Your brain is sending you hopeless thoughts. For example, “it doesn’t matter what I say, nothing changes.”
  • You have a hard time initiating conversations because your anxiety is telling you that you will make a mistake, look “stupid”, or be laughed at.
  • Your thoughts are so busy and fast that you don’t know where to start.
  • You have a history of rejection (don’t we all) and it makes you feel alone, unwanted, and fearful of trying again.
  • Nobody modeled healthy communication in your family or friend group.

Don’t worry! You aren’t alone and your communication skills can improve with practice, even when you aren’t feeling well. In fact, improving your communication skills leads to closer connection with others which often leads to improved mood. Let’s talk about it. Here are 3 tips that will get you on track to effective and productive communication.

  1. Prior planning prevents poor performance.

Taking control of when and where you choose to communicate is not always possible. Sometimes we do the best we can with what we have. However, our brains have a tendency to mis-judge time when we are feeling overwhelmed. This may look like anxious urgency or depressed procrastination. Either way, taking a pause to consider your options and choose rather than react can be really helpful. Whenever possible, make sure that you are not too hungry, too tired, or too distracted when you are having important conversations. 

  1. Stop leading with “I”. 

I know! It’s what all the books and experts tell you to do, but I’m here to tell you what works better. If you have never learned to make “I” statements yet, let me explain. When you are expressing yourself, especially when you are frustrated, it is easy to fall into accusations and blame. By using “I” statements, we lead with what we are experiencing and need, rather than what someone else is doing. For example, rather than “you need to help me”, you might say, “I am feeling overwhelmed with the mess in our house. It would be helpful to me if we could create a better system that works for both of us and helps us keep the house clean.” You can see already that using “I” statements allow us to be more clear and more kind. However, it isn’t the first step in healthy communication. The first step is to lead with your values. When we lead with our values, we diffuse tension, offer a path to connection, and remind the people around us (and ourselves) that we have choice and control. Leading with your values is a great way to remind both parties that there is a foundational common ground that matters. Using the example above, this may look like prefacing the “I” statement with, “It is important to me that we take care of our home so it will last for a long time and meet our needs, including being able to host other guests…”

  1. “I” is for intention.

Our culture is busy and rushed. It is really easy to fall into patterns of speaking without thinking. We often react quickly when we would be better served by pausing and listening. When we remember that “I” stands for intention, we are recognizing that there is a deeper purpose behind the things we say than just being heard and having our way. This is when we consider the “why” we are talking, rather than the “what” we are saying, and the “how” we are saying it. If you remember your “why”, you are much more likely to be committed to and proud of your communication efforts. Better yet, you will be more likely to put in the effort for repair when your efforts don’t go the way you intend.

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