Caring for Self During These Unprecedented Times
The COVID-19 pandemic has added an unprecedented level of stress to our lives. Families, communities, and individuals are experiencing the weight of constant emerging uncertainties and risks associated with the sudden change. COVID-19 has taken us into uncharted waters. The sudden shift can be stressful, as fear and anxiety about the virus can trigger strong emotions in both adults and children[i].
An emotional trigger is any topic that makes you feel uncomfortable. Essentially, emotional triggers indicate to us what aspects in life we may feel dissatisfied or frustrated with, and are often indirectly expressed to others through anger, rage, and blame. Since we are unique beings, emotional triggers and our reactions will vary person to person.
The key to change begins when we learn to identify our triggers and how we react to them. We can take action to protect our relationships, mental health, and overall quality of life. By taking simple actionable steps to care for ourselves and to develop our inner strengths, we will gain the ability to navigate through uncomfortable situations and endure through difficult times.
Identifying Your Emotional Triggers By Strengthening Your Emotional Intelligence
It may be difficult or uncomfortable when someone starts a conversation, or when you are in a situation, that connects you to an emotional trigger. However, the power to change is within your control. By strengthening your emotional intelligence, you will not only gain the ability to identify triggers more quickly, but you will also be able to perceive accurately, understand, and appraise others’ emotions. Emotional Intelligence is a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to differentiate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action”.[i] Mastering your emotional intelligence will positively change the trajectory of your life.
Daniel Goleman, a science writer for the New York Times, specializing in brain and behavior research, discovered that it was not cognitive intelligence, one’s abilities to learn, remember, reason, solve problems, and/or make sound judgments,that guaranteed business success but rather, it was emotional intelligence, the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.[ii] Goleman’s four pillars of skills that builds emotional intelligence are self-awareness, understanding your own emotions; self-control, managing your emotions; social awareness, being empathetic to the emotional drive of others; and social skills, handling other people’s emotions. Through application of Goleman’s four pillars of emotional intelligence, we can learn to keep ourselves, and those around us, calm in the midst of a panic.
Below is a specific list of ways to boost your emotional intelligence in order to improve self-care:
Pillar One – Self-Awareness: when you are mindful of your feelings and your thoughts about your feelings, it puts YOU, and not your emotions, in charge.
- Communication is key.
- Talk about how you are feeling; openly discuss your emotions with a trusted friend or write them down. Your mind will feel lighter!
- Refuse to let yourself get fixated on the negative.
- Instead, focus on the positive. This will help to reduce stress, increase motivation, and create positive change.
Pillar Two – Self-Control: when a triggering situation occurs, your brain activates your body’s “fight-or-flight” response. This evolves as a survival mechanism, quickly overwhelming and taking control over the part of the brain that facilitates rational thinking. Your entire body goes into “defense mode”, becoming tense and ready to take action.
- Create an action plan to problem solve.
- Break down the stressful situation into small steps that are achievable. Then, take action to get each step accomplished.
- Take self-care seriously.
- Self-care is critical for our physical, emotional and mental well-being. It’s a scientifically proven skill to decrease stress and enhance well-being. Self-care starts with you taking care of your sleep, diet, exercise, and alcohol intake.
Pillar Three – Social Awareness: empowers empathy, it is your ability to see the situation through the lens of others. Especially in crisis, it is important to stay engaged with others. An African Proverb stated, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.”
- Improve listening skills; take an online course in effective communication skills or our free course on stress management.
- Pay attention to how others interact, stay tuned into what they are saying, how they say it and what they do.
- Identify others emotional state by carefully listening to what they are saying and how they respond to others.
- Tune into your own feelings and notice how the other person’s emotion’s make you feel.
- Be mindful: think it out then give clear responses.
- Stay connected with friends and loved ones; staying away only makes things more difficult.
Pillar Four – Social Skills: a set of emotional intelligent social skills that help us manage our interpersonal relationship and elicit certain reactions from them. Keep in mind, emotional intelligence starts with first understanding your own emotions (self-awareness), once you gain the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, understanding the emotions and feelings of others (empathy) will follow.
- Practice selflessness, be curious and stay grateful; appreciate what you do have instead of what you would like to have.
- Always ask for what you want; express how you feel and what you want in a gentle, vulnerable way; be prepared, you may not always get the response you want.
- Keep in mind, we do not know what types of struggles others may be experiencing; others may be unaware of their own struggles, therefore, practicing patience with those who care about us is important.
- Remind yourself, others are doing their best. If you feel they have the potential to do better, convey the message in a loving, gentle, and vulnerable way.
- Give your undivided attention to every individual you communicate with: listen and don’t interrupt.
- Stay in tune with the conversation, resist shifting the topic to yourself.
- When in the presence of others, put away your phone or turn it off; paying more attention to your phone than the person in front of you is the ultimate insult.
- Show up on time; the other person’s time is equally valuable as your own.
- Seek professional help; self-investment includes building your emotional intelligence. This is one of the best investments you will make.
All four dimensions of emotional intelligence are inextricably linked to improved psychological and physical health.[i] Mastering your emotional intelligence can be learned and developed over time. A good place to start is by practicing daily self-care to help manage your emotions. This, combined with other resources, e-courses and guidance from a professional, can help you to effectively learn to combat the fear, anxiety and uncertainty emerging from unprecedented events like the COVID19 pandemic. This will also help you to also gain the ability to confidently navigate through everyday situations, improve social skills, strengthen relationships, and ultimately, positively change the trajectory of your entire life.
[i]Martins, A., Ramalho, N., and Morin, E. (2010). A comprehensive meta-analysis of the relationship between emotional intelligence and health. Pers. Individ. Dif. 49, 554–564. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.05.029
[i]History-of-EQ – Emotional-intelligence. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.emotionalintelligencecourse.com/history-of-eq/
[ii]History-of-EQ – Emotional-intelligence. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.emotionalintelligencecourse.com/history-of-eq/
[i]Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19. (2020, April 1). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html