Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your emotions that you said or did something you quickly came to regret? (Can anyone honestly deny this question?)

The truth is, most of us could probably benefit from learning to handle our emotions more constructively. With good reason, emotional intelligence (EQ) is a concept that has become increasingly popular in contemporary psychology. In addition to being linked to greater relationship satisfaction, EQ is associated with better work performance and an increased ability to manage stress.

So, if you want to develop deeper connections with friends, colleagues, or your significant other, cultivating your emotional intelligence (EQ) should be one of your top priorities. But what exactly is EQ, and how do you go about working on it?

In a nutshell, EQ is the ability to be able to recognize and regulate your own emotions, while also empathizing with others and maintaining an awareness of their reactions. In turn, EQ enables you to manage your relationships more effectively, even if and when conflict arises.

The good news is that EQ can be developed with practice. These nine tips will get you well on your way to increasing your emotional intelligence, and strengthening your relationships in the process!

1. Know thyself.

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The foundation of EQ is self-awareness, as having a deep understanding of yourself provides you with more accurate perceptions of how you are coming across to others. To increase your self-awareness, make an effort to reflect on your strengths, developmental opportunities, triggers, values, and the like, so that you are intimately familiar with what makes you tick. Do this regularly!

2. Be open to feedback and criticism.

Emotionally intelligent people are receptive to hearing and considering others' feedback. While you may or may not agree with others' points of view, weighing their feedback can help you guard against blind spots and assist you in recognizing if your behaviors are having effects you are intending.

If they aren't, you can adjust your actions or apologize accordingly (or mindfully choose not to do either). But either way, you are protecting yourself against denial, and are increasing your EQ no matter what.

3. Identify your feelings at various points throughout the day.

Do this particularly when you feel yourself experiencing strong emotions. If a co-worker makes a comment that really triggers you, make a mental note of what exactly it is that you might be feeling. Not only will this help you to develop your emotional vocabulary, it will also help you to take a step back from your reactions and engage the parts of your brain associated with problem-solving. That way, you can make better sense of your emotions and use them to your advantage when making choices about how to interact with others.

4. Try to practice mindfulness in all areas of your life.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field of mindfulness defines the term very simply: mindfulness is "paying attention on purpose ... and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment."

By learning to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment, you can increase your awareness of them with more clarity, rather than having them blurred by the baggage of your assumptions. In other words, mindfulness decreases the odds of your being unknowingly high-jacked by negative emotions.

5. Breathe really, really deeply.

We experience emotions physically. So when we are stressed emotionally, our bodies react on an evolutionary level as if we were responding to a threat in nature. It's chemical: our blood vessels constrict, our breathing becomes more shallow and our heart-rate speeds up.

But if we can calm our body's reaction to our stress, the emotional component is mitigated. So nip your body's stress in the bud, and you'll find that your emotional stress will decrease accordingly. When you feel tense, breathe slowly and deeply, concentrating on letting the air flow in and out of your abdominal cavity. After a few minutes, you will likely find yourself feeling like there's more space in your mind and heart, an undeniably a better state from which to have constructive interactions with others.

6. Question your stories, even if you believe them.

Recognize that there are multiple ways of looking at any given situation. So, instead of succumbing to a knee-jerk negative reaction when you become upset by someone else's actions, slow down and consider if there are other ways of explaining the situation. Of course, anger is a constricting emotion, so we often feel stubbornly attached to our particular stories around a given situation. But if you can, at least try this exercise. Even if you don't change your opinion regarding what happened, the additional time spent thinking about it may calm you down enough to opt for a more constructive response.

7. Celebrate your positive emotions (and watch them resurface more as a result).

People who experience more positive emotions enjoy better relationships and are more resilient in response to negative events. So be intentional about doing things that bring you joy. While there are endless activities that may do this for you, some research-based behaviors to try to include practicing gratitude, engaging in acts of kindness, exercising and reminiscing about positive experiences.

8. Empathize.

Emotionally intelligent people are skilled at putting themselves in others' shoes. So, consider situations from others' perspectives to better understand those around you. This increased insight will enable you to connect with them more effectively, and may even teach you something about yourself in the process.

9. Make active-listening your priority during conflicts.

Are you prone to coming on too strong when disagreements occur? Or, do you prefer to bury your head in the sand? Deal with conflict more effectively by tackling issues head-on in an assertive, but respectful manner — all without defensiveness. By listening empathetically to the other person, you will also create the space for taking your own thoughts and feelings in account. Listening can still be an assertive gesture, as doing so deliberately helps drain tense situations of any unnecessary toxicity.

While these strategies are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of increasing your EQ, putting them into practice will have you well on your way toward handling your emotions and relationships like a pro!

Photo Credit: Stocksy


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