When you have been through difficult emotional periods in your life, you know how hard it can be to pull yourself out of a depressive state or break habits that you know are bad for you. Yet you may also know that those difficult experiences have shaped who you are and made you stronger and more capable as a person. Emotional resilience comes from overcoming difficult times and continuing to move forward with your life, even when you may not feel like it.
What Is Emotional Resiliency?
Emotional resilience has to do with how well you cope with difficult emotions when they arise and how well you handle emotional challenges such as grief, anger, frustration, failure, or other problems. When you are emotionally resilient, you still have emotional reactions to the situations you may find yourself in, but you don’t let the circumstances overwhelm you or pull you down into a dark place that leads to self- destructive patterns. Difficulties can be managed, and they do not change who you are as person or what your core values and beliefs are.
If you feel like your emotions are often in charge of how you react to situations instead of you controlling your emotional reactions, then you may need to practice building up your emotional resilience. Strong emotional resilience can help you cope with challenging situations without becoming overwhelmed or wanting to give up.
How To Build Emotional Resiliency
Building emotional resilience can take time, partially because you have to actually experience challenges and struggles in order for you to become resilient towards them. Everyone eventually experiences feelings like grief, anger, frustration, and failure, but the circumstances which trigger these emotions depends on what is happening in your life at any given time.
When you do experience these feelings or are going through a challenging situation, keep these tips in mind to help you cope with those challenges and build emotional resiliency.
- Acceptance: This is a tough one for many people. Accepting circumstances as they are when you really want the situation to be different is always a challenge. However, the sooner you accept that something bad has happened so now you have to figure out how to deal with it, the quicker you can get on with your life and figure out how to move past the problem and towards the solution. Sometimes there might not be a solution, such as when you have lost a loved one to death or when a tragedy has occurred that cannot be changed. While you may experience other stages of grief such as denial, you ultimately must accept the circumstances, so practicing acceptance is a key component of emotional resiliency.
- Figure out what you can control: Sometimes you will not feel like there is much you can control when something bad has happened, but if you think about it and try to look for your choices, you may find the things that are within your control. When you figure out what you can control then you can empower yourself to make the best choices under the circumstances, and that will often lead to improvement in your emotional state.
- Let go of what you cannot control: After you have figured out what you can control, then you can practice letting go of the things you cannot control. That may be clear at times, such as knowing that something in the past has already happened and you can’t change it. Other times it may be more confusing, such as when you are unsure whether your efforts are going to pay off if you take a risk. Sometimes the only thing you may be able to control is your outlook and attitude towards the problem. Regardless of what’s happening, you will feel more resilient towards difficult circumstances when you learn to let go of any anger or resentment towards things you cannot control and try focusing only on what is within your own power to control.
- Acknowledge your emotions: Emotional resilience is not about not having emotions, but it is about understanding and accepting your emotions. You cannot move past an emotion if you do not acknowledge and accept it. For example, if you feel angry about something, but you don’t ever acknowledge or express that anger, then eventually it builds up inside you and turns into resentment and cynicism. Once you acknowledge that you feel angry and work through accepting the circumstances and choices that caused that emotion, then you can let go of it and move on to a calmer emotional state.
- Take responsibility for your actions and reactions: You cannot control what other people do or how they react, but you can control your own behaviors and reactions. When you take responsibility for your own actions, you will feel more in control, which will lead to more emotional resilience. There may be times when you don’t feel proud of your own behavior or reactions. You can still build emotional resilience when that happens though, by resolving to learn from your mistakes and make better choices in the future.
- Recognize when you are being self-destructive: Coping skills can be either healthy or unhealthy, and unhealthy coping skills tend to increase when you’re under stress or dealing with difficult emotions. Part of taking responsibility for your actions and taking control when you can is recognizing when your own coping skills are becoming self-destructive. This can happen when we start using food, or alcohol, or substances, or other unhealthy behaviors to cover up the difficult emotions we are experiencing. When the coping skills you are using are doing more damage to you in long run, it’s time to recognize that your self-destructive behaviors are just prolonging the painful emotions you need to deal with. Emotional resiliency comes from dealing with your emotions, not from covering them up.
- Stop ruminating: Rumination can become unhealthy when you are constantly dwelling on an issue or replaying scenes over and over in your head. You get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts and feelings that don’t help you move forward at all. Sometimes ruminating on a problem can be helpful when you are looking for a solution, but rumination becomes distressful when you become preoccupied with something and can’t move past it. When you are asking yourself questions with no real solution or answer, such as “What if…” or “Why did this happen..”, you can get caught up in cycles of rumination that leave you with no solutions. Instead, try asking yourself questions like “How can I change things…” or “What are my choices..” to try and find solutions. Focusing on those kinds of questions will help you build emotional resiliency as you work on becoming more solution focused rather than staying stuck in negative emotional cycles.
- Release feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame: This trifecta of emotions can send you on a downwards spiral of self-destructive behavior if you don’t learn to cope with these feelings and release them. This is not about absolving yourself from any blame when something bad has happened, but it is about being realistic about what you are actually responsible for and letting go of these negative emotions when they are not serving you well. If you examine these feelings, you may realize that you have been blaming yourself for things that were not your fault. You might need to recognize that you don’t have to accept responsibility for things you have been feeling guilty about. There might be other times when you do feel sincerely regretful about something you did, and in those times it is appropriate to acknowledge the feelings of guilt and blame. You may need to forgive yourself for things that you regret, or you may need to apologize when it’s appropriate. However, you aren’t helping anyone by drowning in guilt and shame or ruminating about things that are in the past and can’t be changed.
- Understand your own cognitive distortions: Cognitive distortions are like little mind tricks that we all engage in sometimes, but that can distort reality when we don’t look at things in a rational way. You can build up more emotional resiliency when you learn to recognize the mental patterns you use that distort reality and keep you stuck in negative thought patterns. Learn more about cognitive distortions by reading the Cognitive Distortion Series I have on the blog.
- Practice gratitude: When you really feel overwhelmed and stuck in negativity, it’s always a good practice to come back to gratitude. Cultivating a gratitude practice regularly will help you build emotional resiliency by helping you stay focused on the positive things you have in your life and give energy towards more of those things. Even when times are really tough most of us have something that we can be grateful for. Many of us have more than enough to be grateful for, and while none of us is immune from suffering, we can all build emotional strength to help us cope with life and it’s struggles.
Emotional resiliency is a trait that you can develop, and like other areas of personal development, it is something that takes practice. The more you practice dealing with circumstances by choosing acceptance, gratitude and responsibility versus choosing rumination, negativity, and shame, the greater control you will feel over your life and your choices.
You will not always be able to control the circumstances and situations that happen in life, and you will not always be able to control the actions and feelings of others. However, you can choose to mentally shift your perspective in ways that will help you build up more emotional resiliency. Practicing emotional intelligence will help you be better able to handle emotions when they arise and help you feel more confident about how you are choosing to handle problems and circumstances.
For more about Emotional Intelligence, check out these posts:
10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence
Are You Using Selective Self Control?
4 Steps for Anger Management
Cognitive Distortions: Disqualifying the Positive
Everyone has times in their life when they feel depressed, but clinical depression is more prolonged and intense than just having a sad day once in a while. When you are in a depressive state, it can be a challenge to get out of, even when you’re tired of feeling bad all the time.
Most therapists and other helping people will encourage you to focus on positive experiences, thoughts, and people to help you get out of that depressive state and back to feeling good. However, it’s also helpful to think about some of the things that you can cut out of your life that might be contributing to your depression and making you feel worse. It can be hard to get motivated to do the all the self-care you’re supposed to be doing when you’re in the midst of an intense depressive state.
Cutting some things out instead of adding more to your to-do list can be one strategy to combat depression and start to feel better, so that you actually have the energy to take care of yourself. Here are some things that you can safely ditch when you’re feeling depressed so that you have more time and energy to focus on yourself and get to feeling better:
1: Social Media
We all know that social media can be a place of comparison and drama when it’s not being used properly. When you’re feeling depressed, social media can sometimes contribute to you feeling worse, especially if you get trapped into thinking that everyone’s lives seem better than yours or that other people seem to be happy and thriving while you’re not.
In reality, some people are putting their best faces, experiences, and attitudes forward on social media and not necessarily the full picture of their daily struggles. Others might be constantly posting negativity, berating each other publicly, or starting arguments with little chance for resolution on public forums. All of this can get overwhelming as you’re scrolling through your social feeds.
While it may be tempting to surf through all of your social platforms when you’re feeling down or bored, consider temporarily checking out of your social media profiles when you’re having a depressive episode. The point is not to avoid people or the world in general, but you’ll be better off connecting with people in person who support you rather than spending too much time on social media when you’re feeling down.
2: Toxic People
Most of us know at least one toxic person, and possibly quite a few. Toxic people are the ones that either contribute to all of the negativity in the world because they have negative energy overall, or those who directly speak or act in ways that are hurtful or damaging to those around them. You probably know who the toxic people are in your life if you spend a bit of time thinking about it. It could be the person at work who is always complaining about the office or their home life, or it could be that one friend who pretends to be supportive but in reality finds ways to cut you down or dismiss your feelings whenever given the chance.
If you have a toxic person in your life, feel free to limit your contact with them or cancel any plans you might have made if you are feeling depressed and know their energy would just make things worse. This is all part of having healthy boundaries, and boundaries are part of self-care. When you’re feeling depressed, cutting out time with negative, toxic people is part of getting through that depressive episode. You don’t owe time or attention to people who negatively affect your mental health, even if they are among your friends and family.
3: Excess Clutter
Sometimes when you are feeling depressed, your physical possessions can tend to pile up and your space becomes a physical representation of how you feel inside. Think of dishes taking over the kitchen, laundry taking over the living room, and clutter taking over your whole home. The prospect of cleaning everything up seems overwhelming, and the whole mess contributes to how overwhelmed, sad, and unmotivated you feel. The best strategy when this starts to happen is to tackle one thing at a time.
When you are depressed, you probably aren’t going to feel motivated to de-clutter all of your space, so think about just picking up one thing at a time. When you walk to the bathroom, grab something to throw in the trash on the way or the laundry bin. If you go to the kitchen to get a snack, put up one or two dishes from the dishwashing machine or wash one pot in the sink. Don’t think you have to tackle it all at once, but recognize that one small bit of progress is not too overwhelming to manage, and doing one thing can create momentum. You will likely feel somewhat better when your space isn’t overwhelming you too, so just focus on small tasks, and by the end of one day you will have made some progress.
4: Negative Self- Talk & Rumination
This can be a tough one to tackle, because the nature of depression is such that your mind finds ways to remind you of the negative outlook on almost everything that is happening, and it all gets tied in with the hopelessness and loss of motivation that you are already feeling. However, ditching negative self-talk and negative rumination is one of the most powerful things that you can practice to help combat symptoms of depression.
First, you need to notice the thoughts that you are having that are negative and unhelpful. Recognize when you are engaging in thoughts patterns where you are ruminating on thoughts, people, or experiences that are not helping you to solve a problem or move past an issue. When you are having repetitive thoughts, such as “I can’t do anything right, nothing I do will make a difference, everyone thinks negative things about me…”, then you need to take control over this thought pattern.
When you recognize these negative thought patterns, write down all of the negative things you are saying to yourself, and then directly challenge those thoughts. Make an argument to yourself about why these thoughts are limiting you and make a conscious choice to change those thoughts in a more positive direction. You can enlist the help of a good friend or confident, your therapist if you have one, or you can do it yourself. But don’t let those thoughts go unchallenged, or they will take over your mental space and push you further into that depressive state.
5: Extra Obligations
We all have obligations that we have to meet in order to keep out lives on track and running smoothly. Work, school, family obligations, and other responsibilities are a part of all of our lives. Sometimes, though, you can afford to let go of some of the things you typically feel obligated to do, especially if you are someone who tends to over-commit yourself to others or take on more than you can reasonably handle. If this is a problem you have, then these extra-obligations can feel like more opportunities for failure or letting people down, and when you’re depressed, that can take on extra significance. When you are experiencing a depressive episode, however, this is a time to trim down your extra obligations and focus on getting your basic needs met.
If you have a partner that can pick up some of the slack, then enlist their help when possible. If you need to cancel plans that feel too burdensome, that’s okay, just try to be conscientious and forthright towards people that you have made commitments to. You don’t have to over-explain everything, but it’s okay to let people know that you’re not feeling well and you’re not able to meet those obligations you’ve committed to.
This is not to say that you can abandon all of your responsibilities. If you start to just check out of everything, like taking too many days off work, not taking care of your children, or abandoning tasks that need to get done like paying bills then you might find yourself suffering from consequences that will make your depression worse. This strategy is about ditching the excess stuff that you can do without, like too many social obligations or over-committing to extra projects. If you find yourself struggling to complete necessary obligations that keep your life together, then it’s time to get some professional help with your depression.
Manage Depression by Focusing on One Thing At A Time
Managing depression usually requires multiple different strategies, and sometimes it feels like a beast that is too hard to tackle all at once. You don’t have to give in to the sadness and fatigue, though. Every day and every hour is a new opportunity to try something different, and it will be worth the effort you make to feel better.
When it seems like self-care is elusive or like no matter what you do you’re still feeling bad, then try to trim down what you’re focusing on. Thinking about everything all at once can be too overwhelming, so just try to think about one strategy at a time and give yourself credit for that. Abandoning your social media scrolling in favor of a walk outside or canceling dinner plans with that toxic person in favor of some time spent journaling or calling your more positive friend who lives across the country can make a difference in how you feel at the end of the day.
In this post I’m going to talk about how to use a form of sensory distraction called the RAINBOW Method in order to combat a panic or anxiety attack. Having a panic attack can be incredibly distressful, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty breathing or calming yourself. Using sensory distraction is one way of coping during a panic attack, and there are several ways to do this.
What is Sensory Distraction?
Sensory distraction involves using your 5 senses to change your focus from the overwhelming feelings you are having during an acute panic or anxiety attach to a calmer state of mind. It is one method of coping with acute anxiety and panic. I have another full post on using all 5 of your senses for this purpose here.
How to Use the RAINBOW Method to Stop Panic and Anxiety
The RAINBOW method involves the use of your visual senses. The best way to use this method is preferably outdoors, but you can use it indoors if necessary. I usually recommend walking and using deep breathing methods at the same time.
For this practice, you are going to focus on looking for each of the colors of the rainbow in order, and taking deep breaths while you repeat the colors mentally in your head. So first, you will look for something red. It can be a red bird, a red leaf, a red bug, or any other red thing that you can see. Take a deep breath while looking at it and repeat in your head “There is a red bird” or whatever else you happen to be looking at.
Then you will do the same thing with the next color, which is orange. So look for something orange, take a deep breath, and say to yourself “There is an orange butterfly”, or plant, or leaf, et cetera.
Continue to do this with each of the colors of the rainbow, starting with red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. If you get stuck and feel like you can’t move forward, just go back to the colors you’ve already seen, and continue to breathe deeply and slowly repeat your visual observations for each color.
For example, your practice of this method might go something like this:
“I see a red cardinal. (Take a deep breath). I see an orange butterfly. (Deep breath). I see yellow from the light of the sun. (Deep breath). I see green in all of the trees I am looking at. (Deep breath). I see blue in the sky. (Deep breath). I see indigo in the leaves on a bush. (Deep breath). I see violet in a flower that is blooming. (Deep breath).”
You can think of this practice as kind-of like a mantra that you can use during period of overwhelming anxiety to bring your attention back to present moment.
Why Does This Method Work to Stop Panic and Anxiety?
Anxiety is rooted in fear and worry over the future, things you cannot control, things that you have to accomplish, and your own expectations of yourself and others. To calm anxiety, we have to let go of fear and worry and focus on the present moment, because staying in the present allows you to actually release those fears and worries by focusing solely on the moment that you are in right now.
Sensory distraction is one of the ways that you can practice coming back to the present moment and releasing the fear and anxiety you have that are causing such overwhelming distress. The Rainbow Method is one way of using your visual senses to bring attention back to the present moment.
This method can take a few minutes to work, so it is helpful to continue repeating the visual mantra to yourself while you use other coping methods as well to bring your symptoms back under control.
How Does the RAINBOW Method work with other Coping Skills?
Combating panic and anxiety attacks should be thought of as using several different tools in your tool box of coping skills. When you are having an acute panic attack, you need to combat the symptoms using several different coping methods.
If you have medication for panic attacks that you take PRN (per required need), you can use your medication to help you calm down. However, sometimes medication for anxiety attacks can take a little while to work, sometimes up to 15 or 30 minutes, so you need to have some other tools and coping skills that you can use to help you bring your heart-rate down and bring your breathing back under control. For those who do not have a medication to take PRN for an acute panic attack, building up other non-medical strategies to combat panic attacks is also essential.
Deep breathing is a MUST during a panic attack, because you likely have an elevated heart rate and increased respiratory rate, both common symptoms of an anxiety attack. So first and foremost start taking deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to extend the length of your breaths, making each breath longer and slower until you reach a comfortable respiratory rate.
You can also use an essential oil as aromatherapy during a panic attack, which is another form of sensory distraction related to your sense of smell. I have more information on how to use oils for anxiety in this post.
The combination of walking, breathing, and using sensory distraction methods is the best way that I know of to combat an acute panic attack when you do not have access to a medication or do not want to use one.
Responding to Anxiety and Panic
Anxiety can strike at unexpected times. You can be having a good day and feeling confident when your anxiety kicks into overdrive, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with an onslaught of symptoms you didn’t see coming, such as tightness in your chest, difficulty breathing, uncontrollable crying and body tremors.
This is your body responding to stress with a heightened state of arousal designed to put you on edge so that you can confront whatever stressors you are facing at the time. However, anxiety attacks can be disruptive, stressful, embarrassing, and leave you feeling out of control. Learning to use your own senses to combat these symptoms is a key skill to have if you struggle with panic and anxiety.
If you would like a guided mediation audio track of the RAINBOW method that you can use to help you during an acute episode of anxiety or panic, just submit your information on the form below and I will send you a free 10 minute audio track of this method in practice. I designed this guided meditation with my clients in mind who suffer from panic and anxiety attacks. This track will guide you through a deep breathing exercise and the RAINBOW method of sensory distraction, set to calming music, allowing you to focus and settle your overwhelming feelings.
When a person experiences a trauma, the brain reacts in several different ways which can affect the life of that person moving forward. Just as a physical injury from a traumatic accident can affect your body at the site of the injury for years to come, your mind can be also be impacted for years after a traumatic incident, whether due to a physical or psychological trauma.
Trauma causes an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and fear of potential death, serious injury, serious loss (death of someone else), pain, or entrapment. These overwhelming feelings and fear cause the brain to react in ways to try and protect itself. Traumatic experiences can overwhelm the brain’s ability to cope using normal methods of stress relief, and thus alternative coping methods have to be developed, which can cause disruption in the lives of people trying to recover from trauma.
In order to understand why people may have certain reactions to traumatic events, it is important to understand what trauma really is and the range of ways that the brain reacts to the trauma.
Defining Traumatic Experiences
Trauma can occur in response to major onetime events such as natural disasters, a car accident, witnessing or being a victim of violence or a crime such as sexual or physical assault. It may also occur in response to chronic or repetitive experiences such as child abuse or neglect, military combat, neighborhood violence and crime, wartime atrocities, physically or emotionally abusive relationships, and long-term deprivation.
The most important thing to understand about trauma is that it is based on a person’s subjective experience. Two people could experience a similar incident but react in very different ways. The objective facts of the experience do not always cause the same reaction in everybody, so it’s important to understand that it is the individual that defines whether the experience was traumatic or not.
Whether a person perceives an incident as being traumatic or not often has to do with how much danger they were in during the event, whether loss of life occurred or could have occurred, whether it was a one-time incident or an ongoing experience, whether they have access to reasonable safety measures, how much support they have from friends and family, and whether they are validated or shamed for their experiences.
What are the Symptoms of Trauma
When a person has experienced a trauma, such as a sexual assault, a home invasion, or a significant loss, they may experience a wide range of symptoms in reaction to the trauma. Remember that these are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL situations. These symptoms may include:
- Emotional distress
- Distressful and intrusive memories
- Constant feeling of being in danger
- Sleep disturbances
- Emotional numbing or disconnection from others
- Inability to trust others
- Hyper-arousal (constant worry or checking behaviors)
- Physical reactions (headaches, muscle aches)
- Uncontrollable fear
- Confusion about timing or order of events
- Feelings of guilt, shame, or self-blame
- Difficulty concentrating
These are all indications that the brain is attempting to either prevent further trauma from happening again by keeping you in a constant state or arousal or protecting you from potential emotional distress by suppressing upsetting or painful emotions. It is also normal to experience an increase in these symptoms in reaction to another stressors that arises or surrounding a stressful time such as an anniversary or other significant date related to the trauma.
The Effects of Trauma on the Brain
When you have experienced trauma, your brain goes into a state of hyper-arousal, basically because your fight or flight response has been triggered and your brain reacts by trying to prepare you for potential danger. That potential for danger reverberates through your entire body, including your limbic system and your autonomic nervous system.
Your limbic system includes the hypothalamus, the hippocampus, and the amygdala, as well as other areas of the brain, and has to do with processing emotions and forming memories. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating many bodily functions, including your arousal to emotional circumstances and the functioning of your autonomic nervous system (blood pressure, breathing rate, sweating, heart-rate). The hippocampus helps you convert what is happening in the present moment into long-term memories. The amygdala helps to control reactions to stimuli, such as aggression and fear.
When trauma triggers a stress reaction in your limbic system, it can feel overwhelming because your brain is not used to dealing with such a high level of stress, and so its functions can be negatively affected. This reaction in the brain accounts for why some trauma survivors have difficulty recalling the correct order of timing or certain details of the event.
It’s not because they are lying or exaggerating, which some trauma survivors are accused of when their memory is impaired due to a trauma. It is because the part of their limbic system responsible for creating and storing memories was flooded by stress and the entire system was reacting in ways to focus solely on surviving the traumatic situation. Unfortunately, this memory impairment in reaction to trauma is often used against survivors to try and minimize what happened to them or cause doubt in their account of the events.
The truth is that when traumatic events happen, your memory can get mixed up and certain events may not be organized correctly in your brain’s memory filing system, so to speak. This doesn’t mean that a survivor’s perception of events is invalid, it just means that their memory may have been damaged during the traumatic event, which can cause further confusion, shame, or embarrassment about the traumatic event.
Your autonomic nervous system includes the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, and it is responsible for alternately preparing you to handle a dangerous situation, and then calming you back down when the danger is over.
During a stressful event, the nervous system releases the stress hormone cortisol to give you a boost of energy to react to the dangerous situation. Normally, when a stressful even passes, the nervous system will then regulate your hormonal output and bring your back to your normal homeostasis. However, when a major trauma overwhelms your system in reaction to the perceived danger you are in that flood of stress hormones might remained heightened, leaving you feeling stuck in a constant state of hyper-arousal.
This state of hyper-arousal gets exacerbated when you are being constantly flooded with stressors, such as being stuck in an abusive relationship (where you feel you’re always walking on eggshells), or if you experience multiple triggers back to back (such as losing several loved ones in a short period of time). This relentless stress to your system causes your brain to react in a way that can feel like you are constantly on the look-out for the next potential danger or loss, and can make it hard to get back to a period of relative emotional stability.
When to Seek Treatment for Trauma
Trauma recovery can take time, and there is no hard and fast time-line for how long it takes for each individual. However, if you have been experiencing the symptoms described above for more than 3 months after the initial trauma, you may need to seek out professional help. Remember that it is normal to have these emotional reactions to trauma, but talking with someone in a safe environment can help you to process your fears and the emotional damage that you have endured.
If you have people who you know are supportive and understanding, it can be helpful to talk to those who care about you and explain what you are going through. It can be hard to reach out for help, but it is so helpful when you feel supported by those who truly care about you. Talking about trauma can be hard, so turning to a professional therapist or a support group for people who have been through similar traumas can be incredibly healing and help you get to the next level in your recovery.
If you are experiencing any of the following after a trauma, please consider seeking out a professional with experience in trauma recovery:
- Severe fear, anxiety, or depression
- Trouble with functioning at home or work
- Disturbing nightmares or flashbacks
- Avoiding more and more things to prevent distress
- Unable to talk about the trauma with caring friends or family
- Feeling overwhelmed or frozen in life and unable to move forward
- Abusing substances to feel relief from emotional distress
Trauma recovery involves processing memories related to the trauma and the feelings that were triggered during and after the event. An informed trauma therapist can help you to face feelings and memories that have caused you distress and discharge some of the emotional energy or anger you may feel related to the traumatic event. You may also learn new ways to cope with overwhelming feelings and learn how to re-build your ability to assess safety and build trusting relationships.
Trauma disrupts your body and your brain’s ability to feel safe and at ease. Your nervous system may feel like it is stuck in overdrive and you can’t calm down or feel balanced. In order to dispel that excess energy and feel safe again, you may have to go through some uncomfortable things, like talking about painful memories. Don’t push yourself to do things you’re not ready for, but recognize that healing takes time and you don’t have to go through it alone.
For more on trauma recovery, see this post on 5 Things Needed for Trauma Recovery.
Emotional Intelligence has been a buzzword term for a while now, but many people still struggle to understand what it looks like in daily practice. In general, emotional intelligence (EI) refers to your ability to understand and regulate your own emotions. In practice, this means that you allow yourself to feel your emotions, but you don’t allow them to rule over all your decisions or behaviors.
Emotional intelligence also means that you have the ability to understand the emotions of others and respond to people in a way that reflects your understanding of and respect for how they feel. While some people do have a more innate ability to understand the emotions of themselves and others, people also can practice and strengthen these skills.
People who have emotionally intelligent traits tend to communicate better with other people, resolve conflict in a more healthy way, and have better emotional regulation overall. You can practice developing your emotional intelligence by working to understand and regulate your own emotional life in a way that allows you to have control over your emotions, instead of the other way around. This post will be the first in a new series about emotional intelligence where I will expand more on how to cultivate and practice this important skill in your own life.
How to Practice Emotional Intelligence
Here are 10 ways that you can practice strengthening your emotional intelligence so that you can feel confident in your ability to handle your emotions and the emotions of others.
- Understand your own feelings
Learn to identify how you feel by practicing distinguishing your thoughts from your feelings. For example, you may be thinking “he is such a jerk!”, but the feeling associated with this thought is “I feel hurt and disrespected when he speaks to me in that way”. When you focus on understanding how you feel in a given situation, you will be better equipped to approach the situation in a productive way.
- Take ownership of your own feelings
When you know how you feel, the next step is to own that feeling and recognize that you have control over that emotion. Practice doing this by catching yourself the next time you say “You are making me feel…(angry, jealous, insecure)”, and replacing that with “I feel (angry, jealous, insecure) when you do that.” This way of framing your emotions allows you to take control of that emotion instead of feeling powerless over it.
- Use your feelings to help you make decisions
Before you make decisions, ask yourself “how will I feel if I do this? How will I feel if I don’t do this? How are my emotions affecting this decision?” Work on using this insight to help you make decisions that you will be proud of and happy with later on.
- Respect other peoples’ feelings
You don’t have to agree with everyone on everything, but you can have better relationships with all people if you learn how to respect things from their perspective. If you want others to respect your feelings, then you can model how you want them to treat you. Even though other people will not always return the courtesy, you still want to represent yourself well by treating others as you would like to be treated.
- Avoid people who do not respect your feelings
Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean they are disrespecting you, but when someone truly doesn’t respect you or your feelings, you can respect yourself by avoiding them. You won’t always be able to avoid everyone who disrespects you, but you can minimize your contact with them and set boundaries when necessary. For example, if you have a supervisor at work that doesn’t respect you, you can try to make the best of things by minimizing your contact as much as possible and disconnecting emotionally from the situation. Ultimately, though, you are going to need to assess whether you should look for another job if the situation is not going to improve. This includes setting boundaries with people when necessary.
- Manage your reactions to your emotions
You can have an emotion without acting on it in the same way that just because you think something doesn’t mean you have to say it out loud. You are going to feel angry, depressed, frustrated, and distressed at times in your life. These feelings are all okay to have and you don’t have to deny that you feel these things. Yet being angry doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive, being depressed doesn’t mean you have to hurt yourself, being frustrated doesn’t mean you have to lash out, and being distressed doesn’t mean you have to hurt others. Learning to build strong coping skills so that you can face these feelings without reacting in an unhealthy way to them is a key part of emotional intelligence.
- Label your feelings instead of labeling people or situations
This is also part of owning your emotions, because you can talk about your feelings instead of talking about other people. For example, try saying “I feel frustrated and impatient because of how slow things are happening” instead of “This is taking too long! These people are so incompetent!” Even when you are just saying these things in your head and not out loud, it makes a difference. You can be sitting there stewing with frustration thinking nasty things even if you never open your mouth. Recognizing that this helps nothing and you feel terrible in the meantime will help you change your thoughts, which will change your emotions.
- Use your emotions to energize your actions
People who use their emotions to motivate them towards positive action can do amazing things. If you get angry about an issue you care about, it can motivate you to go take action to address that issue. Use the energy you feel from strong emotions to propel you to take action in a positive way. If you think a situation is unfair, speak out about it and let your voice be heard. If you have something bad happen to you, use the power behind your emotions to help prevent the same thing from happening to others if you can.
- Practice taking positivity from negative situations
Negative situations are inevitably going to come up. It’s important to allow yourself the time and space to process how you feel when bad things happen and allow yourself to heal when needed. Negative situations can also be a trigger for growth as well, though. This is a practice that you can start small with. For example, if you have been practicing building patience but you end up next to a road raging driver, use the situation as an opportunity to practice your frustration tolerance skills.
- Learn how to effectively deal with difficult people
Not everyone is going to be in the same place as you are right now in your life. Some people may have their own issues to sort out and you will end up crossing paths with them, resulting in difficult interactions. Part of being an emotionally intelligent person is deciding that you are going to be the kind of person you want to be, regardless of the kind of person someone else is. If you intend to be a kind, considerate, emotionally mature and secure person, then don’t let what other people do have an effect on your own choices and behaviors. It’s hard not to snap back at someone who has been rude to you, or disrespected you in some way. You never have to be a doormat for others or allow others to abuse you. However, when you have the confidence to address situations gracefully you will feel better able to stand up for yourself when needed and let petty things go when it’s not worth your time and energy.
Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?
Practicing emotional intelligence can help you feel more confident and in control of your life. We all have emotions, and emotional intelligence is not about suppressing those emotions. It is actually about understanding and using your emotions to help you handle situations and people in a way that produces positive results in all your relationships and interactions instead of escalating situations until they feel out of control.
All of these practices will help you understand yourself and feelings more, and help you to focus on what is important instead of getting caught up in a habit of just reacting to your emotions. While some people may find that these practices come more naturally to the, other people may really struggle, and that is okay too. Struggling with these things doesn’t mean something is wrong with you, it just means that you might need to practice more before these habits become comfortable. Even people with strong emotional intelligence traits can struggle with this kind of practice. No one is perfect, and emotionally intelligent people understand and respect that!