Understanding and Navigating Conflict While Maintaining Your Mental Health

Understanding Conflict

Conflict is involved in most facets of our everyday lives and can really pack a negative punch on our mental wellness if we don’t know how to manage it well. It’s paramount to learn and implement effective coping skills to manage conflict.

In general, our bodies have a physical response to conflict. Poor management can lead to higher production of the stress hormone cortisol and can cause hardening of the arteries, leading to increased risk of heart attacks as well as high blood pressure.

Each of the following scenarios stirs anger inside of us. But, how we choose to approach each situation can impact our mental health.

You’ve had a long day and still need to pick up groceries before heading home, but the grocery store parking lot is packed. Finally, you see a spot and put your signal on. Some other grocery shopper speeds up and swerves into YOUR spot just as you approach. 

Your son saunters through the door at midnight. You know because you waited up for him. His curfew was hours before, and you know he hasn’t done his homework yet either. You’re exhausted and frustrated.

Your boss has been piling work on you for days, yet your co-worker seems to not be receiving any extra projects. She leaves for an hour long lunch each day as you work through the day, trying to get everything done. Today, she smiles and tells you to work faster and perhaps you could join her for lunch.


When conflict arises, try some of these conflict resolution approaches:
Active listening

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who is focused on something else? You don’t ‘feel’ heard. Make good eye contact. Also, to fully understand where the other party in the conflict situation is coming from, listen before speaking, and try not to be assembling a retort in your head while they’re talking.

Let’s go back to the curfew scenario. Before yelling at your son for coming through the door hours late, ask him if he has a reason why and actively listen to what he has to say. He may or may not have a good excuse, but giving him the benefit of the doubt before immediately expressing your frustrations may help diffuse the tension.  

Elevate your EQ

Your emotional quotient (EQ) is like your IQ for understanding and effectively using emotion. When we try to understand why we feel how we do and appropriately display our emotions, it’s easier to get through conflict successfully.

Utilize Empathy

Sometimes, we get so caught up in how we’re feeling, we forget the other party’s needs and emotions. Truly try to put yourself in their shoes, and you may find yourself empathetic to their cause. Finding middle ground will have less roadblocks when you attempt to be empathetic to others.

You know that rude grocery shopper that stole your parking spot? Maybe he had a child at home with a high fever and needed to get to the store ASAP to get medicine. Thinking about why he may have needed the spot just as badly as you might make you feel a little less angry.

Know Your Limitations

Conflict can escalate easily and quickly. Discern when to walk away, and/or when to call in a professional. Take a few deep breaths, assess, and remove yourself from the situation if need be. There are many local and online resources to help you mediate a situation. 

When your work colleague smiles at you and tells you to work faster, despite not understanding or caring about your workload, you might feel the need to quip back with an unkind response. Instead of acting in the moment, take a walk and ask yourself how to best approach this situation. You don’t have to ignore it altogether (in fact, that’s not a great strategy), but think about the communication type that will be effective, yet respectful.

Keep in mind, conflict isn’t called ‘peace.’ It can be a challenge. But don’t feel too bad about struggling through it--t’s natural to be frustrated. But, don’t give up. Your mental health will thank you for your diligence.