While ideally we would like to avoid contact with negative people, the only way to actually make that happen would be to live in a bubble or on a deserted island. Since that is not realistic, here are some healthy ways to cope with being around negative people.
1. Bring it back.
If you're tired of hearing about your co-worker’s latest dating disaster or family drama, make sure you’re keeping conversations work-related. When you open up conversations to non-work related topics, e.g. family, relationships, etc., you may find yourself on the receiving end of a conversation that you would rather not be a part of.
Also, when you start discussing non-work related topics, some co-workers may not know where to draw the line and inquiries into your personal life may start to become a daily ritual. Other times, people may find that when they share and confide in co-workers, negative people may use this information against them at a later time. When your co-worker starts to go down a conversation path that you would rather not travel down, politely shift the conversation back to work.
2. Manage expectations.
Given your past experiences and history with certain people in your life, it is helpful to gauge what are reasonable topics to discuss and what are likely reposes that you will get. If your parents have never been emotionally supportive of your decisions, do not expect them to be able to start doing so. If your best friend has never been able to celebrate your successes along with you, it’s probably not going to be realistic for her to start doing so. Remember, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. While we would like our friends and family members to be supportive of us- the fact is some people are not capable of providing us with what we need from them.
3. Take a time-out!
When you are around negative people, it is important to pause and check-in with how you are feeling. If you’re at your parents’ house at Thanksgiving and have been the target of criticism for the past hour, pause and check in with yourself. How are you feeling physically and emotionally? Are your chest and shoulder muscles tight? Are you feeling exhausted?
If you notice that the current environment is affecting you, it is time to take a time-out from that environment. Find opportunities to take some alone time. Try going outside for a few minutes and practie being mindful. While outside, take in your surroundings, using your senses. For example, try listening to the sound of birds chirping, notice the bright yellow flowers, and smell the fresh cut grass.
4. Set boundaries.
Think of setting boundaries as knowing what your limits are and communicating them to others. Simply because someone asks you a question does not mean that you are required to answer them. If that intrusive uncle asks you why you recently broke up with your boyfriend and you don’t wish to discuss this at Christmas dinner, say something simple and direct like, "I appreciate your curiosity; however, I don’t wish to talk about it right now.”
5. Take a Deep breath!
You’ve probably heard this several times before- "take a deep breath.” When we are feeling stressed, it impacts our breathing. Under duress, we may find that we are holding our breath or that our breathing has become rapid and shallow. Not only is taking deep breaths simple and quick- but it also releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals, that are natural pain and stress relievers.
6. Ground yourself.
When we are feeling stressed or anxious, it is helpful to ground yourself in the present moment. If you find that you are having a difficult conversation with a negative person, push your feet into the ground, this will help bring you into the present, while bringing the activation in your nervous system down.