By Brian Parsons
“Emotions can get in the way or get you on the way.” ― Mavis Mazhura Hooray! Here come the holidays! So why do I need to brace myself in preparation to celebrate? Why do I reach out to embrace the opportunity for festive occasions with family and friends with trepidation and uncertainty? Why am I so anxious? At least I seem to be making some progress on developing my skills at selfawareness and to be more conscious of my feelings. The more that I simply know and understand myself is helpful. A consequence of my family-life experiences—especially but not only with mental illness—is hypervigilance: I am constantly on alert and expecting a crisis. My hypervigilance is understandable but also very unhelpful. Like so many caregivers, I have good reasons to want to boost my emotional intelligence (EQ). What is EQ, and why is it so important to personal well-being and growth? EQ is the ability to identify, understand, manage, and apply one’s emotions in positive ways to reduce stress and diffuse conflict, and to empathize and communicate effectively. EQ is key to successful connection both with oneself and others.
There are four attributes commonly used to define EQ:
- Self-awareness: Recognition of one’s emotions and how they affect one’s thoughts and behaviour—understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Self-management: Ability to control one’s impulsive feelings and knee-jerk responses, to manage one’s emotions in healthy ways, and to adapt to changing circumstances.
- Social awareness: Sensitivity to the emotional needs and concerns of others.
- Relationship management: Ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships and to communicate effectively.
Understanding of EQ falls short of the ability to successfully apply it—as I am forever being reminded! Practice, practice, and more practice is essential: I can forgive myself for “getting it wrong” and “making mistakes” as long as I make the effort and keep trying. It is better to try to understand and work with my emotions than to try to simply dismiss them: If I attend to my emotions, I can have an influence on them; if not attended to, they simply become more intense and overwhelming. I find benefits in anything and everything I can do to reduce my general levels of stress: yoga classes, breathing exercises, meditation-chanting, twenty-minute breaks to focus on each of my five basic senses, now past-season communal swims with the mallards and the loons, anticipated now-season fireside sittings with a good book—at least I feel much less fragile and volatile. Such practices are far from preventives and they do not always “work,” but they give me the room to limit and contain my often impulsive responses to happenings and to better perceive the silver linings to a catastrophe. I recently overreacted again with a family member— but eventually managed to take a step back and initiate a turnaround in a more constructive positive direction. Improvements in my EQ are empowering, and allow me to exercise greater control over myself and my responses to happenings. My emotions are now an ally—and not the enemy. Instead of feeling trapped in endless vicious cycles of conflict and despair, I am better able to identify and pursue options and choices that offer a chance to change unhelpful patterns and move forward. And the effects are cumulative and build progressively on each other: With each successful small step comes encouragement to take another one. My best wishes to you and yours for the holiday season—may it be rich with open hopes and as free as possible of rigid expectations. And may you enjoy a prosperous EQ New Year!