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Published on February 8, 2021

8 Daily Habits To Develop Emotional Intelligence

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8 Daily Habits To Develop Emotional Intelligence

Why do you want to develop emotional intelligence? Perhaps it’s because you want to be in true control of your life. After all, we control only three things in life: our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.

The most important of these three is our feelings because they drive our thoughts and behaviors. In fact, about 80% or more of our decisions and actions come from our feelings and emotions.[1] However, our feelings are also the most difficult part for us to control since we have the least direct influence on our emotions.

Gaining control of your emotions requires that you develop and harness your emotional intelligence, which is the ability to be aware of your emotions and then manage those emotions.[2]

By following the daily habits described in this article, which are all informed by research in neuroscience and psychology, you will develop emotional intelligence skills and gain much better control over yourself and your life.

1. Delay Displaying Emotions

Have you ever reacted rashly during a tense situation and later on wished you could turn back time? How about regretting something you said in the heat of a moment? Whether these impulsive reactions are a rare occurrence or something that happens to you all the time, there’s a lot of advantages to being able to delay showing your emotions.

But first, let’s talk about how our minds work and our two thinking systems. The autopilot system corresponds to our emotions and intuitions, while the intentional system reflects our rational thinking.[3]

Since our intentional system is slow, it takes time to activate it and reflect on the kind of errors that the autopilot system can make. To address this, you need to develop a daily habit of counting to 10 before following emotion-driven behaviors and decisions. This will allow your intentional system to turn on and address your feelings before you show your emotions.

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Simply understanding how these two systems work and taking some time before reacting will allow you to be more in control of your emotions.

2. Journaling

Writing down your thoughts and feelings regularly is beneficial for developing emotional intelligence. Journaling is also an act of self-care that promotes creativity and self-awareness.[4] Research has also shown that journal prompts or simple guide questions to get you started are useful for stimulating reflection.[5]

While there are no exact rules for journaling, make it a habit to do so daily and establish a process. Develop a morning or evening journaling activity that involves three habits relevant to emotional intelligence:

  • Journaling about yourself and your feelings at the moment
  • Journaling about what you learned about your feelings over the last day
  • Journaling about where you would like to focus on in developing your emotional intelligence, including both the ability to know and manage your feelings, over time

Remember, the key is to get started and to be consistent. Keep it simple by picking a journaling method— you can write in longhand, type, use a voice recorder, or pick a journaling app—and just keep at it.

As you start to practice the habits listed here, you’ll want to review your journal entries from time to time. It will also be a good way to check your previous stumbling blocks and how far you’ve come.

3. Meditation

Meditation is another way of improving emotional intelligence.[6] While most people tend to associate meditation with spirituality, meditating can build new neural pathways, which may aid in managing stress and emotions.[7]

In particular, meditation can also help men who struggle with traditional norms around emotions and difficulty expressing their feelings. Studies have shown that meditation has helped men engage with their emotions constructively.[8]

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I recommend developing these two daily meditation habits:

  • At least 10 minutes of Zazen (empty mind) meditation – This type of meditation aims to clear and calm the mind. To do this, get into a cross-legged sitting position. Next, breathe, empty your mind, and try not to think of anything. Zazen will help you build attention and focus, which can then be used to have more attention to your emotions.[9]
  • At least 5 minutes of loving-kindness meditation – This type of meditation will help manage your feelings toward other people and make these feelings richer and more positive. By practicing this, you can strengthen your connection and feelings of kindness towards your loved ones and even acquaintances.[10] This can be done by visualizing the people in your life, focusing on these people, and thinking of these people sending and receiving love and kindness to and from you.

4. Yoga

You may have heard of its many health benefits, but let me highlight how it also has a significant impact on emotional intelligence. Practicing yoga teaches you to be in the present and prompts you to become self-aware, thereby allowing you to more easily recognize your emotions. This also translates to body awareness and the ability to manage your body.[11]

Emotions often manifest physically, so body awareness will help you be more aware of your emotions, be able to discriminate between these emotions, and manage them better.[12] Get into a daily yoga habit for at least 15 minutes.

5. Regularly Identify Cognitive Biases

Our emotions often lead us in the wrong direction due to mental blindspots called cognitive biases. These are dangerous judgment errors that can cause you to make poor decisions in your personal and professional lives.

You need to get ahead of these troublesome blindspots by assessing and learning which ones are relevant to you. Then, figure out a daily ritual to address the cognitive biases most impactful for you.

The first four habits I described will also best position you to identify and deal with these biases. For example, you can use journaling to write down how you plan to address them.

6. Relating to Others

While the first five habits on this list will allow you to reflect, assess, and deliberate internally, you should also equally consider how you relate to people. After practicing the fifth habit, I’m sure you will realize just how full we are of cognitive biases when it comes to our emotions concerning other people.

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To manage your emotions better, have a daily habit of evaluating your emotions when you interact with other people. Pause, reflect, and identify what you can learn about yourself during these interactions. You can even use this as one of your journal prompts.

Equipped with the information you’ve learned about yourself, plan how you will interact with others moving forward. Remember to continue delaying showing your emotions to others, especially at first, to learn to manage yourself well.

7. Develop Active Listening Skills

Many people listen without actually hearing what is being said. This is especially true for many arguments when people adopt a combative stance and spend their time formulating a response in their mind instead of really listening to the other person.

Without the right listening skills, no emotional intelligence can form or be employed, and most conflicts would remain unresolved.

When conversing with others, listen actively instead of just as an afterthought or as a way to pass the time until it’s your turn to speak. Rather, listen to ensure that you have a good understanding of what is being discussed.

When resolving conflict, active listening helps you determine how you can contribute to solving the problem. This is because it gives you time to clarify any confusing points as well as employ your emotional intelligence to help you come up with an appropriate response.

8. Use an Assertive and Collaborative Communication Style

While each habit can be practiced individually with good results, I’m rounding out this list by highlighting the importance of an assertive and collaborative way of communicating. That’s because the first 7 habits all work harmoniously to allow you to be more assertive and direct.

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Keep in mind everything you’ve learned about yourself, your biases, and how you react to others. Then, develop the habit of being assertive—not aggressive—and being more direct when communicating. This allows you to express your opinions more clearly, thereby encouraging others to communicate with you clearly as well.

Conclusion

No matter what your reasons are for wanting to hone your emotional intelligence, you only stand to benefit from the attempt.

Adopting these daily habits is the key to developing emotional intelligence, which is your gateway to having true control over your life. While the learning curve can vary per person, anyone can take a shot at—and master—these habits.

Practice just a few to see how it enriches certain aspects of your life, or utilize all 8 to reap the compounded benefits of an emotionally intelligent mind.

More Tips on How to Develop Emotional Intelligence

Featured photo credit: Katerina Jerabkova via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

Reference

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