If you’ve found yourself having an overblown reaction to something relatively small during the past year or so, you’re not alone. We’re all juggling so much—mentally and emotionally—that it can be difficult to continuously have to process everything that comes our way. These can be anything from major threats—like the global pandemic, racial injustice and violence, and economic/financial insecurity—to your average everyday annoyances.
When faced with so much at one time, it’s easy to have big, emotional reactions to everything, even the smaller stuff. One way to help deal with this is by strengthening your emotional agility. Here are three tips for doing that.
What is emotional agility?
If you haven’t heard of “emotional agility” before, that may be because it has only been around since 2013, when leadership coaches Dr. Susan David and Christina Congleton first coined the term in a Harvard Business Review article. Basically, emotional agility is exactly what it sounds like: having the ability and skills necessary to think problems and emotions that come up through during periods of complexity and change.
As David explained in a recent episode of the Armchair Expert podcast, there are three key skills you can practice to improve your emotional agility in uncertain times: acceptance, compassion and curiosity. Here are some ways to improve each of those crucial skills, according to Vanessa Loder, a former Wall Street and Silicon Valley executive, now working as a mindfulness consultant.
Labeling your thoughts and feelings is a powerful way to begin accepting what you are feeling without being overtaken by it. When you say, “I am sad,” you become fused with sadness. It is now your identity. You are the gray cloud of sadness. When you say; “I notice that I’m feeling sadness,” now you are more the observer. You are the sky. The gray cloud of sadness is simply passing through.
Now that you’ve identified how you’re feeling, approach the emotions with compassion. Per Loder:
When you label your emotions more accurately, you can better understand the cause of that emotion and what you can be doing in relation to that emotion. If underneath your stress is loneliness, perhaps you are craving more intimacy and connection so it’s important to reach out and call a friend. On the other hand, if behind your stress is disappointment, maybe it’s time to have a difficult conversation with your boss or express your disappointment to someone.
Get curious about why your emotions are causing a specific reaction. Loder says that the next time you are processing a difficult emotion, ask yourself “What is this emotion trying to tell me that is important to me right now?” She goes on to explain:
If your emotion is telling you that you’re upset with your boss or colleague, it doesn’t mean you need to tell off your boss or suppress your anger and put on a happy face. As David says, “Emotions are data, not directives.” Instead, ask what can bring you closer to creating the career and life you love? Get curious about what value that emotion is pointing you toward. That is the power of our emotions; they are guideposts to our deeper truth.
Yes, these strategies do take some time and practice, because let’s face it: it may seem much easier to have a generic Big Feelings reaction to everything and let it get us worked up, but really, we’re only adding additional stress to our plate when we do that.