“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions, I want to use them, to enjoy them and to dominate them.” Oscar Wilde
A Bit About Emotions
Emotions or feelings, such as joy, sadness, anger and fear, play an important role in everything we do. Emotions are complex and comprised of many components. Our emotions are triggered by our perceptions of external experiences, such as a conflict with another person, and our internal stimuli, such as a memories of a past experience.
Mentally, we appraise, evaluate and interpret emotions. The mental appraisal of an emotion is unique and subjective. Each of us will experience, describe and interpret emotions differently.
Emotions are associated with physical changes to our bodies. When we are feeling stressed for example, our brains increase production of adrenaline. Adrenaline is released in response to anger, fear, panic, excitement and other strong emotions. It causes physical changes such as increased heart rate, perspiration, flushing and pounding chest to prepare us to run away or fight.
Emotions include an element of expressive behaviour or an outward sign that an emotion is being experienced. These include facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, restlessness and tensing muscles.
Emotions are related to but different from mood. Emotions are specific reactions to a particular event and are short-lived. They typically revert back to a baseline state quickly. Mood is a more general feeling such as happy, content, depressed or anxious, that lasts longer.
Emotions influence the content of our thoughts and drive decision making. Emotions have motivational properties dependent on their intensity and quality. Specific emotions have goals that promote a particular response. For example, fear triggers flight, anger triggers assertiveness, anxiety triggers increased focus and concentration. These responses can aid in our survival. They allow us to quickly deal with problems or opportunities. To take action. To avoid danger.
Emotions influence our behaviour in social interactions. They allow us to connect with others, and to develop strong social bonds. Emotions help us understand others and help others understand us.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the capacity to understand and label, regulate, and express our emotions thoughtfully and empathetically. To be aware of what is going on in the moment so that we can choose how to respond to emotions in ourselves and others. Emotional intelligence involves self-motivation, control of one’s impulses and includes the ability to decrease intense emotions so that they don’t overwhelm us and affect our judgement. With practice, we can learn to become more responsive and less reactive to our emotions and others. Emotional intelligence improves our ability to cope with challenging situations, increases our social competence in interpersonal relationships and mitigates the effects of stressors on our mental health.
Strategies for Strengthening Emotional Intelligence
1. Sit with an emotion. Allow it to express itself. Dialogue with it. Take time to reflect on what the emotion might be telling you. Difficult emotions often inform us about problem areas, unresolved issues, and potential solutions to problems. Emotions are not meant to be denied, dismissed, viewed as bad or repressed.
2. Become aware of and notice where you sense emotion in your body.
3. Identify, label and accept your emotions.
4. Check in with your emotions.
5. Create space between your feelings and your reactions. Before you react, pause, take a deep breath and count to ten, for example.
6. Take a brief time out to compose yourself. Realize that the emotion will pass. Feelings will eventually change. Remind yourself that you have not always felt this way and won’t continue to feel this way.
7. Avoid jumping to negative conclusions right away. Generate other possibilities or ways of viewing the situation or experience before responding.
8. Avoid personalizing other people’s behaviour. People do what they do because of them not because of you.
9. Contact supportive people to discuss your feelings. Sharing can help you feel normal and less isolated.
10. Seek out others perspectives to create more openness. Widening our perspective can reduce the chance of misunderstanding.
11. Develop a thrive not just survive mindset. View crisis or difficult experiences as challenges or opportunities rather than disasters or failures. A can do attitude will increase your confidence in your ability to overcome adversity.
12. Ask yourself, what is the lesson here, how can I learn from this experience, what is most important now, what are some better answers?
13. Take time to clarify your position and speak up when an issue is important to you.
14. Find a healthy outlet. Journal, practice yoga, paint, meditate, garden, box etc.
15. Be kind to yourself.
“I love to create, and to me the ultimate freedom of expression is a blank canvas or a block of clay to capture whatever emotions your imagination gives it.” Daniel Boulud