Written by Dr Ian C Llewellyn.
EI and Coping with Stress.
Advocates of EI tend to support the idea that how we respond or cope with stress is in many ways at its most effective if done through an emotionally intelligent action plan. Stress challenges our individual ability, sometimes we need to be the masters of our emotions, and blend both emotional and cognitive thinking. EI helps us to recognise what is happening on the inside emotionally and how best to manage those emotional states and feelings. Emotions are ‘neutral’ experiences. We each have choices to make in how we respond to the emergence of emotions as they make their presence felt in our lives and contexts. This lack of, shall we say, emotional awareness will very often be the turning point that makes a molehill – a mountain! Here we see the potential for the intelligent use of emotion states/ feelings. That annoying neighbour, the pesky work colleague, the expected but unwanted ‘brown letter’ through the mailbox, all have the potential to trigger, anger, as an emotion, physiological changes in pulse and blood pressure as a response to how that makes you feel and a negative mood the more you dwell on it and a possible resulting act of conflict. Conversely, clarity of thinking and experiencing seems to equip us as individuals with the ability to think differently about our emotions and thus act differently as well so we become more positive and emotionally aware/responsive individuals. According to Epstein, a helpful way to move to this type of response is by seeking out social support networks. No person is an EI island – it’s a community thing!
Talking about thinking: EI and Decisions!
Irrespective of our lived experience, we are always having to ‘decide’. Even not making a decision is a decision! We process information with the rational and emotional parts of the brain. Here is an example that may look or sound recognisable:
Your rational brain knows that certain habits like smoking and skipping even minimal exercise are detrimental to your health. The emotional brain sometimes overcomes this knowledge and even justifies these bad behaviours, and convince you to keep doing everything wrong for your health.
Why don’t we do things we know we should do? Welcome to the divided brain.
There is a lot of information on the power tussle between the emotional and rational part of the brain. A helpful and interesting book to explore is Kahneman’s: ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’. Here, they are described as two separate systems of thinking. First, the emotional and intuitive process, and then the slower and more effortful process of rational logic. The lived truth, however, is that you can’t be rational if you are too emotional, but at the same time, you can’t be rational if you are not emotional. When you are too emotional, you won’t make rational choices, even though you know what’s best for you.
Let me dispel one myth though: all thinking is emotional – its physiological impossible not to be emotional as every event triggers the release of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine.
Dealing with life choices, especially, life-changing ones can sound difficult. Without the right information to help you rationalise, it could be overwhelming.
But if we had to use logic, and reason in all situations, we’d be trapped in a cycle, unable to move in any direction because we would be caught in a loop as we analyse and contemplate the pros and cons of every choice.
Your rational brain represents your ability to reason through various options whilst your emotional brain represents your instincts, impulses, and intuition.
While the thinking brain is making provision for your retirement, your feeling brain wants to plan for a vacation. The rational brain is systematic and impartial, but also slow. Like a muscle, it’s built over time if you exercise it more often. The emotional brain, however, makes decisions quickly and effortlessly, even though it’s often irrational.
While too much emotion can weaken reasoning, a lack of emotion can be equally harmful.
Our emotions are coached by years of logic and experience.
While emotions can engulf rationality, rationality cannot exist without emotions. Make no mistake, your emotional brain pushes most of your choices.
Michael Levine of Psychology Today, says every time we make a choice, our left-brain arm-wrestles with our right, but rationality only represents about 20% of human decision-making. He notes:
“It is said that emotions drive 80% of the choices Americans make, while practicality and objectivity only represent about 20% of decision-making. Oh, and forget about making a decision when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tried. The acronym “HALT” is exactly the point here: DON’T DO IT! If you make a decision while feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (or some combination of more than one of the above) emotion wins 100% of the time and will likely push you in the wrong direction.”
EI is the intelligent use of emotions. So, some practical suggestions going forward:
1. Reflect on your own emotions.
Take some time to sit down and reflect on your own use of emotions. For example, how do you usually respond when:
- You read an email that implies you messed up
- Your significant other blames you for something you feel is unfair
- Another driver cuts you off on the highway
- A close friend or associate begins to cry unexpectedly
By first identifying your own emotions and reactions, you become more mindful and start the process of building control.
2. Ask others for perspective.
By asking those close to us–like a significant other or close friend or workmate–about our interactions with them, we can learn from their perspective.
3. Use “the pause”.
When you work on pausing before speaking or acting, you create a habit of thinking first.
4. When criticized, don’t take offense. Instead, ask: What can I learn?
5. Practice, practice, practice.
Like any other skill or ability, practice makes…
Helpful Reading/ supporting references:
Justin Bariso– EQ Applied 2018
Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, Fast and Slow 2011
Michael Levine -Emotion and Logic 2012: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-divided-mind/201207/logic-and-emotion
Steven Stein – The EQ Leader 2017