Reducing Anxiety by Increasing Your EQ
By: Melissa Nunes-Harwitt, L.M.S.W.
Is anxiety a constant presence in your life? Maybe your stomach clenches when you imagine walking into the supermarket or your heart beats fast as you prepare to join a meeting. You might be jittery when you first wake up or lie in bed for hours with your mind racing. These sensations may be so powerful that they are interfering with your everyday life.
"Anxiety" is a feeling that often masks other emotions. When difficult situations occur and you ignore your reactions, you may think that the feelings have gone away. In the short term, this allows you to avoid thinking about the specific challenge. But saying "I just need to let it go" doesn’t truly work; emotions stay present in our bodies until they are acknowledged and processed. When we avoid them, feelings change shape and reappear, often as anxiety or depression.
Allowing yourself to notice and express feelings is how you can move through them instead of staying stuck. The ability to recognize and cope with a range of reactions is called emotional intelligence, or "EQ." Two important elements of EQ are knowledge and abilities. These can both be learned and improved. A higher EQ not only helps to address and reduce anxiety, it is linked to improved physical health, relationship satisfaction, and work performance.
You can boost your EQ by learning to identify what emotions are lurking underneath the generalized sense of anxiety. This can be unsettling or confusing at first but is worth the effort.
One way to start is by looking for situations that might be the true cause of your distress. Did something happen recently that was unusual, extreme, or troubling? This could be a bad work review, a change to your health, or an argument with a loved one. You might be telling yourself that it wasn’t a big deal, but if your anxiety started around the same time, there might be more going on than you think.
The situation won’t necessarily be something happening only to you. Mid-March 2020 brought significant social upheaval to all of us due to COVID-19. If your anxiety started or ramped up after that time, make sure to factor in these changes as well.
Identifying and recognizing what is bothering you can be difficult. Give yourself space and time to think about what happened, either on your own or by talking to a trusted friend or therapist.
Try to connect with your emotions rather than turning away. Imagine that each feeling is a relative calling you on the phone; maybe you would prefer not to talk to them, but you also want to treat them with kindness. Make time for the feeling and ask what it wants to tell you. Listen carefully to the response. It may have to do with times when life did not go how you had hoped – that’s sadness. It may be projecting a disaster scenario in the future – fear. Pointing out how you’ve been prevented from a desired outcome – anger. And a lightness in your chest – joy.
Name your feelings to confirm that you’ve identified them correctly. Write them in a journal, record them on your phone, or try saying out loud to yourself "I’m feeling sad right now." "That situation has me scared." "I was upset the other day." "I am furious about what they said." Let the feelings know that they are welcome. Expressing emotion helps you to process your experience so that it does not go underground and turn into anxiety. Keep practicing building your EQ by noticing and labeling emotions. Making space for feelings takes time and energy but not as much as constant anxiety.
Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.
Nelis, D., Quoidbach, J. Mikolajczak, M., and Hansenne, M. (2009). Increasing emotional intelligence: (How) is it possible? Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 36-41.
Schutte, N.S., Malouff, J.M, and Thorsteinsson, E.B. (2013). Increasing emotional intelligence through training: Current status and future directions. The International Journal of Emotional Education, 5(1), 56-72.
Keith Stein |