Without the right coping mechanisms, anxiety can be crippling. The problem is, finding those coping mechanisms is a real challenge, because no two cases respond the same way. Plenty of patients bounce back and forth between SSRI treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes without finding quite the right balance. Developing emotional intelligence, or EQ, gives you access to an entirely new skillset, which you can use to cope with your anxiety disorder and reclaim your quality of life.
What is EQ and What Does it Have to Do With Anxiety?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to handle emotions with grace, and it has everything to do with anxiety. When you learn how to broadly apply EQ to your entire life and all of its complicated emotions, you can learn to narrow the focus and specifically apply it to your anxiety.
According to the RULER program, EQ has five key pillars:
- Recognizing emotions in yourself and in others
- Understanding what causes your emotions
- Labeling emotions accurately
- Expressing emotions appropriately
- Regulating emotions effectively
Developing your ability to apply each pillar of EQ to your anxiety attacks can help give you some much-needed control over your disorder. Here’s where to start:
#1: Recognize Anxiety
The first step to applying EQ principles to your anxiety management is to recognize when you’re feeling anxious. If you’re anxious in a public place, at work, or when spending time with friends, it may feel more convenient to push your anxiety away and pretend you’re not feeling it; but this strategy only encourages your anxiety to continue to brew under the surface. Instead, acknowledge how you’re feeling, even when it’s not easy to do so.
#2: Understand Anxiety
Next, try to understand your anxiety and its triggers. Whether your anxiety tends to come on after a poor night’s sleep or as a result of negative self-talk, knowing the cause allows you to address it more effectively.
In some cases, you might be able to avoid your triggers as a result of understanding them. For instance, if you know you get anxious when you’re shopping alone, try bringing a friend.
In other cases, you might know your trigger but find that it’s impossible to avoid… such as a last-minute meeting at work, when you’ve had no time to emotionally prepare. In that case, try exploring why this trigger makes you anxious through journaling or talking to a therapist.
#3: Label Anxiety
Anxiety is a complicated emotion with physiological symptoms (such as racing heart, sweating, stomach upset, etc.) that closely mimic fear, and are sometimes similar to sadness or anger. If you don’t know what emotion you’re feeling, you can’t address it properly. Developing emotional intelligence gives you the tools you need to recognize your anxiety and not mistake it for another emotion.
#4: Express Anxiety
It’s not always easy to find a socially appropriate way to express your anxiety at work or in public, but it’s always possible. If you need to maintain your composure, take a five-minute bathroom break and get your racing thoughts and feelings down by writing in a journal or an app (such as Headspace or Happify). If you’re lucky enough to be alone when an anxiety attack hits, then let yourself feel and express it however you need to, even if it means breaking down.
#5: Regulate Anxiety
Learning to regulate your anxiety gives you the freedom to function in the real world alongside your anxiety disorder, rather than in spite of it. This step relies heavily on every pillar that comes before it, so you need to be adept at recognizing your anxiety and knowing how to express it. Anxiety regulation is about understanding your emotional patterns and making lifestyle changes that support your ability to function, such as avoiding triggers and making time to explore your feelings.
Anxiety disorders are more common than ever, and developing emotional intelligence is a great way to build a skillset that lets you handle it effectively. Even better, emotional intelligence-based coping strategies are both universal and simple. If you’re raising or teaching kids on EQ-based curriculum, then it’s a natural next step to teach them to cope with anxiety should it become necessary.