Certainly, you have experienced one of those days in which nothing seems to be working out. You woke up uncomfortably and stressed to begin with, followed by traffic disturbances and fellow students who were even more annoying than normal. Your to-do list of the day quickly became unfeasible and almost every signal and thought increased your stress-level. On top of that, your partner could hardly do anything right, so you quickly became annoyed at everything he/she said, which resulted in a proper fight. To get away from it all, you decided to get a drink in the city centre. The following day, you wake up with an even bigger study delay, an angry partner and a terrible hangover. What started off as a ‘simple’ emotion related to stress has now turned into acting in a dysfunctional way, together with the related consequences.
The example mentioned above is of course a little bit of an exaggeration, but a great amount of people will be familiar with these kinds of experiences. These kinds of emotional escalations are, however, easy to prevent in most cases. In this blog, therefore, I would like to give a short introduction on how emotional intelligence can be a weapon against these kinds of emotional ‘escalations’. Lately, a lot has been written on emotional intelligence and its positive effects on our well-being, performances and interpersonal communication. In some cases, it is even described to be thé skill of the future. But why is that, and how does it work?
Emotions and our behavior
The reason why emotional intelligence is considered to be the most effective weapon has something to do with the given fact that we humans have to do with emotions, no matter what. Namely, emotion is by definition a natural and inevitable response to an actual or imagined situation, relevant for the purposes, motives and worries that we have (Deci, 1980; Vallerand & amp; Blanchard, 2000). Because we have to deal with changing situations and thoughts constantly, one can imagine that we notice certain emotions coming up or disappearing. Noticeable at the surface as well as unnoticeable, each having their own influence on how you behave. The situations or thoughts that trigger emotions are not only intense or excessive experiences, such as excitement or intense sadness when it concerns something that is important to you. It could also be the small things, such as eating a specific dish, the weather outside, or listening to a specific song. In that sense, we are constantly dealing with all kinds of emotions and with that, sensitive to changes in behavior. Still, it is not the presence of all these emotions that trigger a certain situation to escalate, necessarily. As the example in the introduction illustrates, the problem is more in the way in which we are directed in a certain direction by an emotion. In other words, who is taking control. And that is exactly where emotional intelligence comes into play.
Emotional intelligence as a weapon against the vicious cycle
Emotional intelligence refers to the capacity to notice, understand and regulate your own and others’ emotions (Pekaar, 2018). An emotional intelligent person is capable of acknowledging what he/she is feeling (recognition), knows why he/she is experiencing this feeling and what the consequences are on his/her behavior (understanding), and is able to adjust accordingly (regulation). In other words, this person knows what is going on and when, and is able to deal with it in such a way that the consequences are minimized. An emotional intelligent person realizes that situations or thoughts that bring about certain emotions are, in most instances, uncontrollable, but the influences on their own behavior are not. Hereby some tips how you can do the same:
Step 1: Recognize emotions:
What are you feeling at the moment? A question that may seem simple, but is often difficult to answer. Are you, as a reader, aware of how you are feeling and where you are feeling this, at this moment? You can only become emotional intelligent when you acknowledge that you feel something and you can describe what exactly. The first step is, in short, simply learning to feel. Therefore, you should try to consider what you are feeling exactly and how this feels, more often. Of course, you cannot learn to speak a language fluently in just one or two days. To do this, you should start by learning some words, knowing how these sound and how you construct sentences with them. This is also the case with emotions.
Step 2: Understand emotions:
As soon as you know what you are feeling and how it feels, the next step is to understand what effect an emotion has on you. What, for example, will result in you experiencing stress? Reflect on the past few months and consider which situations or thoughts resulted in you experiencing stress. When you experienced stress, what were the consequences on your behavior? Did it improve or worsen your state of mind and how did you notice? By understanding why you experience certain emotions and what it does to your state of mind, you create a sort of database of experiences and you get to know yourself better. Obtaining this knowledge will help you detect a future emotion sooner and thereby help you prevent escalation.
Step 3: Regulate emotions:
As soon as you understand how an emotion is created and what effect it has on your behavior, you can start looking at ways in which you can influence emotions when they arise. The ability to regulate emotions is advantageous because it makes you mentally flexible in all kinds of situations, and thereby stronger and more effective. Which actions you can use to realize this can be based on past experiences in which you successfully dealt with stress. This can be as simple as looking at a specific photograph, collecting specific memories or simply cooling down by taking a stroll.
Of course, this blog provides only a small and simplified image of emotional intelligence. However, even a small detail can help you in protecting yourself even better against the complexity of the everyday pressure and stress. Make sure to also check out http://atlasofemotions.org/ if you are interested in various emotions, how you can recognize them and what strategies there are to deal with them.
Deci EL (1980). The psychology of self-determination. Free Press.
Vallerand RJ & amp; Blanchard CM (2000). The study of emotion in sport and exercise: historical, definitional and conceptual perspectives. In: Y.L. Hanin (ed.), Emotions in sport, pp. 3-37. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Pekaar KA (2019). Self-and other-focused emotional intelligence.
Buurma, S (2020). Emotionele intelligentie als sleutel tot topprestaties - Deel 1: Hoe emoties ons beïnvloeden. Sportgericht, 74(1), 30-35.