With COVID-19, the typical negative emotions we encounter while going about our lives have been exacerbated. We may have lost our jobs, businesses, or fear we will lose them. Worries about paying rent, staying healthy, and taking care of our families have eclipsed the concerns that many of us had pre-pandemic. Every day we hear news about infections, deaths, and layoffs—and it looks like there is no end in sight.
The scenarios that make us angry, disappointed, and fearful can feel endless. But during trying times like these, it’s not the situations themselves that make or break us, it’s how we respond to them. Emotionally intelligent people find ways to not only cope with negative emotions, but to use the lessons they’ve gained to move ahead.
Here are seven ways emotional intelligence can help us during these challenging times:
It keeps us from reacting immediately
We feel before we think. But if we react immediately due to our negative emotions, the outcomes are never good. We all know of people whose angry outbursts have cost them dearly in terms of promotions, or other aspects of their life. Whenever we are having powerful emotions, we need to give ourselves time to think. Sometimes that means temporarily removing ourselves from a situation.
It helps us name how we feel
The simple act of being able to name how we are feeling takes away some of the energy that our emotions have over us. It gives us some distance from the emotion and allows us more clarity. Whether vocalizing your feelings to a friend or therapist, or keeping a journal, naming our feelings gives us a chance to step back and reflect upon the situation.
It lets us to share with the right people
The worst thing to do is to commiserate with others who are known to hold grievances or who will encourage us to wallow in our negativity. After all, misery loves company. Instead, emotionally intelligent people make sure to discuss issues with other people who are good listeners and able to give an unbiased objective viewpoint of what happened. (This is usually someone who has no stake in it one way or another.) One way to help ensure you’re sharing productively is to try to focus on sharing the data of a situation, not your judgements.
It allows some distance
When you are in a stressful position, emotionally intelligent people often try to see things from the perspective of an outside observer. Though challenging, it can be helpful to try to see the situation as if you were someone neutral, with no stake in the final outcome. Part of this includes making an honest attempt to try imagine things from the perspective of everyone involved. “Seeking to understand the perspectives of others from a point of empathy, will not only positively shift how you feel about an event, it will help you build deeper and more meaningful connections,” says Shona Elliott, CEO of Shona Elliott Leadership Services and author of Create Value as a Senior Leader.
It gives perspective
In a stressful situation, ask yourself how much this will matter to you one, five, or 10 years from now. Many times this sort of perspective-taking will help reduce your anxiety. Ask yourself: Is this a battle worth fighting, or will it serve you better to let things go and move on? What will be the likely outcomes of the choices that you make from this point on? How will they help or hinder you in moving ahead with your goals?
It lets us help others
One thing that Mr. Rogers knew well is something that his mother told him: In every disaster, look for the helpers. In every crisis, there are people who are there to help. Seek out these people and join in with what they are doing, whether that’s setting up a pop-up food pantry in your neighborhood, donating plasma, or calling an elderly family member who is quarantining. You will be surrounded with people who refuse to dwell on the negative and look for what they are able to contribute to make things better. The good feelings that come from helping others will uplift your emotional well-being.
It helps us cultivate gratitude
We can focus on what we have lost, or what we still have. As well, we can look for something we have gained from the present situation. Recently I was on a Zoom call where we all had to share something that we were grateful for and something we had gained during COVID-19. Everyone could come up with many examples of both. “It is understandable that, due to all of the uncertainty of the past five months, we feel overwhelmed and anxious,” says Elliott. “Cultivating a consistent practice of managing our emotions through self-reflection, gratitude, empathy, and helping others gives us insight as to all that is working well in our lives, helping us navigate our negative emotions, and live a better-quality life, even amidst a pandemic.”