Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Sharing three key tips for discussion, stress reduction, and healthy relationships.
In this episode of the Your Killer Life podcast, Tammey and Griff talk about the realities of stress, communication, and working as a team through the chaos of breast cancer. Sharing personal and intimate reflections, they discuss past traumas and breaking old communication patterns that could have been destructive to their relationship. Identifying three communication tools, they share how utilizing these concepts enhanced their communications success, and created a safe space for them to emotionally grow and heal - both individually and together.
“Approaching every conversation or every problem with the assumption that something has to be fixed… effectively what you are telling your spouse is that he or she is not capable of doing that by themself.” -Griff Woodford Click to tweet
Topics in this Episode:
Our stories regarding stress
Individual vs. Social Stress
Communication and communicating in crisis
Emotional awareness comes from emotional safety
We don’t all emote the same way
Help create each other’s “Safe Space’.
Are you reacting or responding?
If you don’t know how to help. . . ASK!
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Hello and welcome to your killer life. I am your host, Tammey Grable-Woodford, and I am so excited to be with you here. So excited to have you here with us, actually. This is, um, gosh, our second episode together with my amazing cohost, Griff Woodford.
Griff: Hi everyone, again.
Tammey: So, welcome back and thank you so much for being here.
Griff: Thanks for having me back!
Tammey: Yeah! So, we are looking forward to talking today about stress management. So those of you out there who have been diagnosed with cancer, even if you haven't been diagnosed with cancer, there's enough stress in the world that this is, this is a podcast that, this episode is pretty relevant all across the board.
Griff: Yep, I would say it's universal. The last podcasts we did together, if you guys managed to catch that was um, being successful in trauma. Trauma being, of course, one of those things that no one gets out of. Well, the number two to that, would be stress. So again, it doesn't matter your lifestyle, how affluent you are, you are always going to experience it.
There is no getting out of that. So rather than trying to get out of it, trying to run from stress. Learning some, uh, some methods and some imperatives and making that stress more manageable and a lot less impactful. So that's why I'm here today.
Our Stories of Stress
Tammey: Awesome. I love it. You know, when I, there's so much, uh, to the, to the story of stress, at least in my life. I mean, one of the things that I've known for a long time is that I have actually had adrenal fatigue because I was always burning the candle at both ends, and interestingly enough, that could, could… could have contributed, there could be a correlation to, to the breast cancer with that stress and not mitigating it.
And I thought I was managing my stress because I was getting up at 3:30-4 o'clock in the morning and running five miles on the treadmill. On the days I didn't do that. I was doing P90X plus AB-Ripper. So, I was working out 90 plus minutes. And so I thought that that was how I was managing my stress.
When I made life changes, big life changes. And I remember leaving the job and all the chaos, and, and I forget what the scenario was, but I was standing in the kitchen and I looked at you and I said, “Oh my gosh. I used to feel like this all the time!” and I could actually feel that stress in my body, and that had been my normal for so long.
Frankly, what I thought was coping, was not even really hiding it. It was giving me adequate fatigue and it was giving me endorphins.
Tammey: But it was not actually managing stress. So, let me ask you a question. How does stress management pertain not just to the individual, but to the team, to the unit?
Individual vs. Social Stress
Griff: Well, you know, that's, um, well, one of the main reasons why I'm here. Each one of us. We all kind of have our own means and methodologies for handling or individual stress. You know, this isn't so much a talk about how “just you” can manage that stress maybe more healthily. I mean, we, there, there will be some dialogue about that, but, uh, in particular it's about managing stress as a unit.
One of the main themes in this podcast is cancer diagnosis. So, we have, obviously, we have a lot of cancer, cancer survivors, people who are currently going through the medical interventions for cancer.
Griff: Exactly. Right. Right. So the, uh, the imperatives on managing stress as a unit. In many cases, and again in particular that we are social creatures. We are, we are meant to be with others, with another, uh, with the group we are, we are tribe oriented. So, the fact that we relatively know how to manage our own stress does not mean that we know how to manage stress together. And if we look at the, um, gosh, just the divorce rates for husband and wife, or just spouses in general, who there's a cancer diagnosis in that, or, you know, pick your poison as far as stress. You know, that life altering stress, life-altering trauma, and the stress that's caused from that, that is one of the key and critical factors of losing a very important relationship and losing a very important person in your life. So, the importance of stress management as a unit often does take precedence over stress management as the individual.
Now, here's the cool thing. If we really get a good handle on that unit, stress management, it dramatically reduces our own individual stress. Again, being social creatures, we, a lot of our, our emotions are, our attitude is gleaned from others around us. If we are able to create a, I won't say peaceful, but a calm mood or outlook between the people who are important with us, that dramatically reduces our own stress.
So, in those terms, it's pretty obvious that. The individual in this case will typically take less precedence over the unit.
Tammey: So, I love that, and that is such an interesting way to frame it. Because I think oftentimes when we think about stress, we really, we think about mitigating stress just just for ourselves.
Tammey: We think about our reaction to stress as something that is ours, but the, the wave or shockwave, sometimes of that stress and how it reverberates throughout the unit is not something to dismiss. And it is something that is, um, I would argue healthier to, at least it has been for me, you know, to have that safety of the unit, to be able to have the expression, and I don't know, the ability to, to just use, use your words and, and have that stress.
Communication and communicating in crisis
Griff: Exactly, exactly which that is a perfect intro into the number one stress management tool or technique, whatever you'd like to call that. When we, we consider unit stress management, and that is number one, communication, communicating. Particularly in time of crisis. And, you know, for you and me honey, the cancer diagnosis, you know, you are, you know, for at least three years, you were always, uh, the focus of attention. You know, not just us as a small unit, but caregivers, family, you know, you're the one going through it. So you are the focus.
Being able to communicate openly, but more importantly, effectively. And. I guess being able to glean the, the critical points of that communication. That is what I would say, at least on my end, above anything else is what helped manage and mitigate, but we'll both have our stress.
Communicating without expectation, or without assumption is probably a better way of saying that. In relationship, we often have our, our assumptions based on familiarity. We assume that the other person should know “X” or should act accordingly based on “Y”.
That is certainly not how that works, particularly in… in time of stress and time of crisis. Having the ability to approach from a, I won't say non-emotional, but an emotionally aware point of view. And again, not assuming, don’t, don't assume that something is, is known or is going to be acted on.
Emotionally Awareness comes from Emotional Safety
Tammey: I love what you said about emotionally aware, and I was going to add to that, the, you know, without fear of retribution.
And so that is another… you know, a lot of times there's always the joke, right, especially with women, that whatever you say is: (laughing) a) this call is being recorded for training purposes, and it may or may not be used against you later. All right? So… we'll just toss out that, that general stereotype. (laughing)
But having the safety, in that space to be able to emote or… because I will be, I will be very vulnerable… and say that, you know, when you and I first met, it was so hard for me to use my words. You know, my default setting was to just run. It was to just get out, to just check out, to just create space and cocoon my way in.
And so you worked very hard and creating that safe space, and giving me the opportunity. At first, it really started with, I ca.. I can't, I cannot talk about this right now because I don't know how to explain what I'm feeling.
Tammey: And then the next day, being able to come back and say, “okay, I think this is where I'm at and why.” And trust that it wasn't going to be something that was thrown in my face in an argument over, you know, something petty a few months later or whatever. And I think that is so critical and so hard because when you start talking emotions, we have left the land of logic. (laughing) So…
Griff: Right, right. You know, and that's a really important aspect of, of communication is learning each other's communication format.
We don’t all emote the same way
Because just as you said, you know, your, excuse me, your default was to a) shutdown b) run or just a little bit later on, just not being able to understand what it is that I need to express. Speaking in your terms.
I was the exact opposite. I was, “we're going to confront an issue now… head on.” Because, you know, my, my past, uh, experiences were, if I didn't do that, it would come back to bite me with the person that I was with.
You know, that just what you said, that, that festering type thing. Letting something go, uh, unaddressed and it would just create an infection and would catastrophically explode at a Walmart, or some nonsense. Right?
So. That was, that was a significant hurdle for us actually. It's still something that we both have to be very mindful of… is understanding how we, how we communicate in our own sense as an individual, but how we have to potentially modify that or find a balance for that, when we're communicating with each other.
With the emotional context. You know what you said, you know, abandoned logic. We are in emotion now. That… that is, well, that certainly has truth to it, but that also comes… well, it comes with safety as well. Safety and trust, like you just said.
If we are in a place that we don't trust, we don't feel safe, then we are going to be ruled by emotion. We are going to be ruled by fight or flight. We are going to not have the ability to, I won't say detach, but look from an outside perspective, is this really directed at me?
Griff: You know, and that's where that is, again, back to the assumption issue is… assuming that that that bad tone is directed at something that I did. Assuming that because I get home and you're upset about something, that I automatically did something wrong.
Griff: Y’know, I mean that that's how fights start, right?
Griff: And we've had a couple of really good ones. (laughter)
Tammey: Especially in the beginning.
Griff: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Tammey: You know, and add into that too, going through cancer treatments, right? Like trying to temper the prescription drugs and the darkness that comes with some of them. I mean, for those of you that haven't been through it or are going through it as a caregiver, I mean, I've just got to tell you, in addition to all of the overwhelm and panic, and truly day today, fight for your life. That is the mode you're in. Now, throw in some narcotics, throw in aftereffects of surgery and getting all of that stuff out of your body from the general anesthesia, to the antibiotics, to whatever, muscle relaxers, all of that stuff. And so to have really good, meaningful dialogue, I would say really requires some, some extra love and patience on the caregiver side.
And I'm not excusing at all my behavior, but I will frankly say that, you know, in some of those moments where we had some of our biggest, uh, sort of blow outs, I was, I was present, but not fully there.
Griff: Right, right.
Help Create Each other’s “Safe Space”
Griff: Which is the second point is precisely the second point of communication. Appropriate communication in relation to stress management. Being able to to formulate, and or create a, a peaceful environment. Where we can use that relationship as our, our stress management tool in and of itself.
So… leading into that, it is in a sense, time management. To be more specific, it means don't try and necessarily solve something right now. You know, there is always time and based on my prior careers and old adage, adage, excuse me, in, um, pertaining to gunfights and that's the one who takes his time in a hurry, wins… right? So not allowing yourself to rush to decisions, rush to emotional response. Allowing things to with, with help work them out on with… within their own timeframe. You know?
And your case in particular is, you know, some aspects, it, it took weeks. Yeah. No. Even just for some of some of the medication to wear off to where you could communicate what you were actually trying to say.
Griff: Y’know, not saying that you couldn't communicate effectively, just what was coming out was not exactly what was supposed to come out perhaps,
Tammey: Or you know, there's so much noise and so much confusion and being able to articulate it in a way that can be understood… it can be a challenge. You know, you can communicate emotionally. You can say, you know, I am really dropping the F-bomb the whole bit. I'm unhappy. I am insecure.
I'll bring up a really random, and it could seem irrational and it's really not. And it wasn't really a fight, but it was you having to sort of, I don't know, navigate around… and that's bra shopping.
Griff: Oh yeah.
Tammey: So… to look at where I was mentally, where I'm trying to find a bra, I don't have real breasts. I'm in the midst of reconstruction. I have requirements on what it can be. My body image… my self-image… my confidence… my femininity...
So much was annihilated. And bathing suit shopping and bra shopping were two things that would just wrecked me in the worst ways. And I struggled to find the words for why it was so stressful and so painful and, and just so terrible, such a terrible experience.
Griff: I completely remember that. And you know from my perspective on that, it is honestly a complete lack of understanding. Right? In that period of time, based on my… well, my realities. Right? You know, where I perceived my roles to be, what I understood the situation as. It just didn't make any sense. I could, I could not understand why this was such a catastrophe every time that this would, this would have to, we, we go bra shopping or swimsuit shopping.
So as an example, my first reaction is take that personally. Obviously not the appropriate reaction… but you know, being at that time, in particular, the caregiver. The provider of care. You know, I'm responsible for not just your physical healing and safety, but also your emotional, healing and safety. And not understanding why this was the way the wheels were falling off. It put me on the defensive.
Tammey: You know? It was really interesting as, as you're speaking, I'm remembering something you said to me many, many times. And it was that you felt like a failure, that I didn't feel beautiful because you felt like you weren't doing your job in reinforcing tha… that, that you still found me to be all of those things that I thought I was lacking.
And so there's two perspectives that are so different. Because who I was, you know, currently post post-op, versus who I was prior to having the bilateral mastectomies. And, and you so many times also said to me, “Baby, if we were to reverse roles, would you be speaking to me, the way that you're speaking to yourself, would you feel about me? The way that you feel about yourself?”
But that's, that's that whole emotional train ride… you get on that train and logic kind of evades you.
Griff: Mmhmm, I remember all that very, very well. Which again, is, is further proof of that component that not everything is going to be solved at once.
How you get there is through understanding. Trying your best to understand and not necessarily trying to solve the problem all at one time. Listening, just listening.
Are you reacting or responding?
There's, um, the last bullet point that I have written, written down is, uh, not to react, but to respond.
You know, when we say reaction, that you know, in your mind that conjures up will emotional reaction, um, like being startled, reacting to a loud noise or something like that.
A response is a thoughtful, attentive, and careful action based on a stimulus.
Tammey: The other thing that you did that was amazing, and I had never had anyone in my life do this for me. And this is that, you know, you, you can argue communication styles, masculine, feminine, we all have both energies, so whatever… but one of the things that you did for me, which was so critically important… is you would ask, “Do you want me to listen or would you like my input?”
Tammey: And you were so polite and respectful in how you did that. And that allowed me the freedom to let you know what I needed and if I really, truly just needed to emote.
Tammey: Then I had a safe space to do it. You didn't take it personal. You knew I just needed to, to get rid of the swell of emotions that were overriding my logical self at that point in time.
If you don’t know how to help. . .ASK!
Griff: And for any, uh, any guys listening to this that is, um, it's very difficult to do. And you know, this just as well as anybody else is, you know, we are programmed as the caregivers typically. I mean that in that husband wife context, you know, we, we fix stuff that's biologically and physically that that's our role.
Approaching every conversation or every problem with the assumption that something has to be fixed… effectively what you are telling your spouse is that he or she is not capable of doing that by themself.
So rather than taking on responsibility that first off is likely not yours. Simply ask, “Would you like me to just listen to you, or do you want my opinion on the matter?”
That is where most of the successful communication and most of, most of those successful conversations, and resolutions to conflict, where those have began. Is that simple sentence directed at, well, in my case you, but at your spouse, your significant other, is exactly that.
Tammey: And it also gave me the freedom and power to start conversations that way.
Meaning, that now I knew how to ask, right? Like we had created this safe space. So I was able to say, “Honey, I need to talk about something and I really just need to talk. I don't need it solved.” You know?
And that created, I think, just such a wonderful… thank you for that because that created such a wonderful space for me as I went through my healing.
Griff: Yeah. You're welcome. And you know, the same, same thing applies directly to you. Is by just asking that simple question or beginning a conversation or a problem with that. I mean that, that tells us what our responsibility is. You know, in my case, and I would assume most other cases, is if we know all we have to do is listen? Hey, it's a load off of us, a load off the other person. And also, I would say, sharpens us.
It certainly does sharpen me. Where if my only responsibility is, listen, I don't have to think about the four or five ways to potentially solve a problem. That means that if, if you do ask what I think about this or ask my input is I, I'm a lot better prepared to answer something like that.
Tammey: Definitely, and there are many different ways. I mean, we obviously are not tackling all the different ways that you can manage stress. So we'll probably, I don't know, this could even be a whole series, but you know, really talking about unit communication, team communication, being on the same page, allowing space, understanding each other's pasts and dysfunctions because we…
Griff: Sure. Yeah. Absolutely right.
Tammey: None of us is without it. If you are… a let us know in the comments because we'd like to meet you, but you know, we all have some element of it.
And then you have your entire history of, of patterns that, and habits that you bring into a relationship. And of course ours was compounded because you were that crazy guy that stepped in post-divorce from the other husband, right?
And you were like, yeah, I can, this is my… this is my thing. I got this! You crazy thing. And so we had all of that compounded with this, this feeling. So all of our fight or flight. Just from what would be a normal fight or flight argument or disagreement compounded with the fight or flight from life and death and everything that's going on.
Griff: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
Tammey: So… I don't feel like I articulated that part very well.
Griff: No, I got what you're saying.
Tammey: (laughter) I hope they got it.
Griff: Well, let us know in the comments if you understood what we're talking about.
Tammey: There we go. So, alright. Did you want to add anything else before we wrap it up?
Griff: Um, just to, I would say go over the three main criteria that be the beginnings of stress management.
Learning how to manage and mitigate stress together is learning how to communicate appropriately with each other. To not assume. To respond, not to react. That would be the starting place. Those are, those are very solid tools and the tools that I personally default to more than any, any other is exactly that.
So, thank you for having me.
Tammey: I love having you on here. This is great.
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Remember the conversations you hear on the show are based on unique experiences and varying diagnosis. And we all had our own medical teams. We are not giving medical advice. So if you hear something inspiring, please talk with your providers.
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