“Emotional Intelligence is the ability to monitor one’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”
– Salovey & Mayer –
Emotional Management Tool Kit
Despite good intentions, we often resort to less effective and sustainable tactics to manage emotional experiences. These may include blocking out negative emotions with excessive drinking, gaming, or mindless media scrolling. Managing uncomfortable feelings and thoughts by persistently pushing them away is also counter-productive and often makes them persist and erupt when we least expect it.
Emotion suppression over time is also associated with a raft of health problems. In contrast, dealing with our anger by yelling is more likely to inflate negative emotions rather than resolve them.
When our familiar coping strategies fail or aren’t accessible, how do we manage our emotions effectively at the moment? How do we give ourselves more opportunities to respond intelligently rather than reactively in challenging, emotionally charged situations?
“It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head – it is the unique intersection of both.” – David Caruso –
Drawing on a vast toolkit to select the right emotion management strategy for the situation is critical in the immediate and long term. This is one of the hallmarks of emotional intelligence.
Emotion Management Strategies
So, what are the best strategies for managing emotions? And how do we avoid reactive outbursts and manage emotions effectively at the moment?
Here are 10 simple strategies for managing emotions and tapping into your body and brain’s capacity for shifting negative emotions into a more positive or calm mood.
- Smile to make yourself feel good. Find a mirror, and make it fun. If it doesn’t feel right, you will be laughing at yourself. The muscles will tell our brain we are happy. Do it for 30 seconds.
- Smile to make others feel good. Create that connection, open communication, and trigger those mirror brain cells that make us experience empathy for others.
- Get up and move. Jump around. Moving our lymph nodes to get toxins out of our bodies is essential. Our lymphatic system doesn’t have muscles to get it moving; it works when we move other parts of our body and allow gravity to massage it. Bouncing is the best way. Raising our arms releases hormones under our armpits – often referred to as ‘happy hormones. Again, this will tell our brain we are happy and make us feel better. Get up from your desk regularly.
- Check-in with your body. Do a body scan. Take note of where you are holding tension and your physiology. Relate these changes to the emotions you are feeling.
- Physically remove the tension. If you feel tense in your arms, shake your arms; if you feel tight in your chest, stretch, expand, or breathe deeply.
- Breathe. Take 6 deep diaphragmatic breaths. Our body cannot sustain anger through deep breathing. Let the lower lungs have that oxygen to pass around your body and brain. This will calm you and flood you with oxygen. You may feel tingly. Do it for at least 60 seconds.
- Talk to someone. Express your feelings to begin to resolve the situation. Vent to a friend or colleague rather than suppress emotions.
- Disengage and re-engage emotions—Park a challenging emotion to deal with later, rather than just avoiding it. Acknowledge and accept the feeling, then use your emotional intelligence to help generate a more useful emotion.
- Label your emotion. The part of the brain that can label or name an emotion is the same part that feels emotions. Labeling is proven to reduce the intensity. Just saying, “I am feeling angry,” you feel less angry.
- Label emotions for others. We can often disarm an emotionally charged situation by acknowledging what people feel. “I sense you are angry; can you tell me how you feel?” This encourages others to consider and label their emotions more accurately: “Yes, I feel angry” or “No, I am not feeling angry, I am feeling annoyed.”