With Valentines Day this week, displays of romance have been all around us. Flowers, chocolates, and jewelry are nice, but a more meaningful gift you can give anyone you love is the gift of listening.
This week I read about a study where the researchers measured cortisol (stress hormone) levels in subjects’ spit before and after talking with their significant others about a problem. They pinpointed the best things partners can do in these conversations to reduce stress levels.
- Acknowledge the person is feeling stress, even if the situation doesn’t seem that stressful to you. Dismissing the problem doesn’t help.
- Communicate both verbally (e.g. asking questions) and nonverbally (e.g. making eye contact, nodding, and touching). All these things can make cortisol levels go down, and the person is likely to reevaluate the problem in a less-stressed light.
- Listen and understand. Don’t offer advice unless the person asks for it; simply legitimize his or her feelings. This can help subdue strong emotional reactions.
High levels of cortisol can lead to sleep problems, headaches, and poor concentration. High cortisol levels gradually wear the body down and contribute to poor health in general.
Your loving support for a loved one, if done correctly, can help him or her have better quality of life. It’s a gift you can keep giving all year long.
Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.