I used to be very conflicted in situations when someone close to me was in a negative, complaining or stressed-out mood. I want to be empathetic, but emotions are contagious. The more I hear my friend out, the worse I feel. Before long, both of us are negative, complaining or stressed out. Letting people vent to you will sometimes help them feel better, but oftentimes it will leave you both just feeling worse. Though venting can be useful and helpful, when a distressed friend is venting maladaptively, my favorite way to make them feel better is by asking them to meditate with me.
Carol Tavris, a psychologist, and her review of literature on anger expression has shown that talking to others about a bad situation can be helpful under certain circumstances. When the person you’re confiding in is helping you understand the situation, find humor in it, put it in perspective or prevent it from happening again, venting can be helpful and useful. Other kinds of venting, however, can be much less productive. According to Tavris’s review, complaining or competing for sympathy in situations can escalate feelings of being wronged or demeaned. Thus, I try not to spread my negative emotions unless the people I’m confiding in will help me cope or fix the problem.
However, when someone is complaining to you, it can be much trickier to help them feel better when they aren’t venting in a constructive way. Attempting to teach your angry, complaining, stressed out friend how to vent adaptively can be a recipe for disaster. So, for years I struggled trying to decide in these situations, whether its better to empathize with these friends and catch their bad mood or escape, preserving my mood but leaving them to wallow in sadness — don’t I sound nice?
Last year, however, I found a third alternative that could help my friends feel better without risk of catching their bad mood. I started asking friends to meditate with me.
At first, I definitely did not expect my fellow college students to be interested in meditating. The mentality I used to have was that meditation was something beneficial I should do, for a certain number of minutes every day, and I would start…tomorrow. It was never something that I thought of doing right now.
When I became a TRAC fellow writing tutor last fall, we practiced mindfulness for a few minutes at the beginning of every class. Together we sat, three times each week, doing nothing but noticing the present moment. Together we watched our thoughts, our breath and our experience of the world. By the time we moved on to the rest of class activities, everyone was a bit calmer and more fully present. Although I have struggled to maintain a structured meditation practice, my experiences in the TRAC program has made meditation a more readily available option for dealing with all emotions and experiences.
Now, when a friend is struggling with a stressful workload or ruminating thoughts of worry and doubt, I ask them to do a guided meditation with me. Guided meditation, which is a meditation led by the verbal instructions of a trained practitioner or teacher, can have an effective solution regardless of whether or not you have meditation experience. Plus, if your friend is in a really bad mood they might be more receptive listening to a really wise, zen person rather than listening to you.
There are a bunch of guided meditations right on YouTube, so it’s easy to find one with a duration and style that fits the situation. There are guided meditations to help ease anxiety, relax your body and give positive energy. This year my friend showed me the light-hearted “F*ck that: A Guided Meditation” YouTube video, which can help turn a stressful situation into a rather humorous one.
When you want to stay positive but are trying to help a friend who is negative, complaining, or stressed out, try asking them to meditate with you. You’d be surprised who easily agrees to this, and how much better both of you will feel afterwards. Doing a guided meditation can help you and your loved ones recognize and let go of negative emotions before they start to spread. This way, you can remain an empathetic and helpful friend but also retain and spread your own positivity.