One day this past week, Lisa Ritchie, our VP of Recruiting and Talent Selection, and I were on a video call. She was having a rough day and needed to vent about something non-work related – managing the virtual schooling of her children due to COVID school closures.
“You know,” she said, “I’m perfectly fine going along and going along and then one day, Bam! I hit an emotional wall. Do you know what I mean?” she asked.
Yes, I absolutely do know what she means. I too have hit emotional walls over the past few months, sometimes over something very upsetting and important such as the COVID death of someone I’ve known my whole life, and sometimes over something trivial, such as the lack of paper towels in the grocery store. And I’ve fielded many calls from clients who have hit their own emotional walls.
What I’m learning is that as the global health pandemic lingers on in its insidious way, our resiliency is challenged in unexpected and sudden ways. Our ability to handle adversity is occasionally compromised. And unfortunately, our moments of poor emotional intelligence are unpredictable and inconsistent. And it seems that no one is immune to these emotional gyrations.
This is a very real workplace challenge that many business owners and managers are facing these days. When talking with your employees, it’s important to let them know that they may be experiencing unpredictable ups and downs. Feel free to share your own emotional struggles so that others know it is normal to experience feelings like frustration, sadness, and anger. It helps to know none of us are alone in our feelings. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help.
To manage those feelings, here are some steps to improve emotional intelligence:
Step 1 – Self Awareness Often times, we don’t realize our emotions have hijacked us until we’re in a full-blown state of fight, flight, or freeze. We may find ourselves lashing out at others, or freezing from anxiety or fear. These are indications that our brain has been stimulated by a stress signal and stress hormones like histamines, cortisol, and epinephrine are flooding our bodies. Chances are, however, that before you were in an extreme emotional state, your body was sending you signals that you were feeling fear or anxiety or sadness or anger. Start paying attention to your body. For me, I feel stress as butterflies in my stomach. I find myself clenching my fists or clenching my jaw when I’m angry. I feel frustration in my shoulders and head. Most of the time, I feel these emotions in my body before I have identified my emotion or why I’m feeling it.
The most important element of managing your emotions is to notice that you’re having an emotion. For the next few days, try to pay attention to the signals your body is sending you indicating that you are having an emotional reaction to something around you. Listen to your body.
Step 2 – Self Regulation While being aware that you are in an emotional state is a critical part of improving emotional intelligence, it’s not enough to help you manage stress. The second most important step is to do the things that you know calm you. Ask yourself, “Why am I stressed? Why am I feeling this way?” Simply asking yourself those questions will force your brain to redirect the stimulus from your amygdala (the primitive part of your brain responsible for releasing those nasty fight, flight, or freeze hormones) to your higher cortex (the part of your brain responsible for cognitive thought). Once you’ve had a chance to think about the fact that you are in an emotional state, try to identify ways to self soothe and calm yourself down. Some common techniques include:
- Taking deep breaths
- Going for a walk
- Listening to calming music
- Looking at artifacts of beloved people or places, such as pictures, artwork, rocks, shells, pottery
- Spending time with friends
- Spending time alone
- Redirecting thoughts through the use of a mantra or soothing saying
There are many things you can do to calm your emotions. The important thing here is to start your calming techniques as soon as you feel your body responding to a stress signal. If you wait too long, your amygdala will pump those hormones into your body, and they are likely to hijack your emotions for up to 8 hours. So the faster you can recognize and redirect your emotions, the faster you will be able to move on from them.
Step 3 – Practice Gratitude and Grace It is said that the brain cannot process fear and gratitude or anger and gratitude at the same time. This is why, in times of stress and uncertainty, so many therapists and counselors recommend keeping a gratitude diary. A gratitude diary is a record kept every day of the three to five things you are grateful for. I don’t personally keep a diary because, well, I’m not disciplined enough, but I do know that being grateful is critical to my own mental health and happiness and has been for years. You can be grateful for something small, like securing a perfect parking spot, or for something big, like the love of a dear friend or one’s children’s good health. Whatever it is, that gratitude brings health and emotional healing.
Grace is equally important. It is a kindness that you can show to others, whether they have earned that kindness or not, and it is a kindness you can give to yourself, particularly when you find yourself feeling guilty, insecure, or in a state of self-loathing. There is no point in treating others with grace if you fail to do so for yourself. The more self-love you can show yourself, the greater the capacity you will have to love others.
Finally, as we all work to manage the occasional emotional storms during this difficult time, I wanted to share a special prayer that I practice which I learned during my training as a Reiki healing practitioner. I hope it brings you comfort in the days and months ahead:
Just for today, I will not worry
Just for today, I will not be angry
Just for today, I will be grateful for my blessings
Just for today, I will work honestly
And Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing (including myself).
By Claudia St. John, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, President – Affinity HR Group, Inc.
Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, Inc., NAWLA’s affiliated human resources partner. Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as NAWLA and their member companies. To learn more, visit www.affinityhrgroup.com.