Stress and intelligence
I wanted to cover here the relationship between stress and emotional intelligence (EI), and how we might be able to move from the former to the latter: being emotionally intelligent rather than getting stressed, letting our emotions take over.
If being emotionally intelligent means ‘identifying and managing your emotions’ - and as a result being able to relate well with/tune in to others - then when we get stressed, our EI takes a dip. Appreciating the link between how we think, feel and behave the way we do is clearly going to be helpful here.
EI is something we can develop if we need to, to understand ourselves and others, if we’re motivated to do so: to present the best version of ourselves, to improve our relationships for example. We can, of course, let our emotions rule us, rather than the other way round, and our EI takes a dip, for a number of different reasons, and get stressed.
It’s worth remembering that on occasion we may think that it’s normal, okay, acceptable to be stressed, anxious or down – we lose all EI, in the sense that our emotions take us over, unhelpfully - because of difficult life circumstances: if that’s the case, we might be saying to ourselves “I can handle it, it’s short-term, a ‘one-off’, and not affecting me adversely, or my relationships, wellbeing, work etc.”.
If stress is getting in the way, however, how can we use/develop our EI to address it?
Let’s look at where our emotions come from, and how the four domains – our beliefs/attitudes about and towards ourselves, others and the world; thoughts; feelings and behaviours - feed into and off each other.
We’re demonstrating EI, and as a result are less likely to become stressed, if when we’re facing a challenge or potentially stressful situation, we can ask ourselves one or more of the following questions, and/or try one of the following suggestions/techniques:
- Am I over-reacting here/exaggerating the importance of this?
- How would someone I admire be handling this?
- What advice would I give my best friend here?
- Remember a time when you handled something similar well/when you’ve been resourceful in the past.
- In the moment, focus on your breath, breathe from your diaphragm.
- What’s the best possible interpretation I can put on this situation?
- How would I deal with this situation if I was being kind to myself?
- Bring your mantra/mnemonic to mind: e.g. ICDT: I Can Do This; GYAB: Give Yourself A Break.
- Bring to mind one or more of the *Truths of Life: ‘Life isn’t fair’; ‘The goalposts move’; ‘Nothing is guaranteed’.
- Think of someone who’s in a more difficult situation than you.
- Decide that you’re going to make the best of things, not the worst of things.
- Is there a different vantage point I could look at this situation from?
- Stop and look at your feelings, not from your feelings: What am I experiencing?
*courtesy of Steve Peters (The Chimp Paradox)
Just some ideas to get you thinking, to try out. These won’t be the whole answer – and we may need to look at our beliefs/attitudes, some of which may be unhelpful – but they can help.
What we’re looking for is for EI to be our default position, which we may well deviate from on occasion. Emotions in themselves aren’t the problem, getting emotional isn’t the problem. Getting stressed through a lack of EI can stop us making rational decisions though, can prevent us from learning (including about identifying the cause of our difficulties), and make it difficult for us to present the best of version of ourselves.
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About Marc Kirby
Marc has been involved in training, coaching and developing people for over 30 years. His interest is in supporting individuals to make the most of themselves; to maximise their potential; to perform to their best and to live their lives to the full. He runs Stress Management Plus, and Developing Connections, in Reading, Berkshire.