Managing Emotions When Things Start to Change
Just recently here in Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds has begun reopening businesses and counties across the state. Discussions around the nation have begun focusing on the reopening of the economy. It is easy to adopt the mentality of, “We’re all in this together,” but in actuality, we’re not. We are all coming from vastly different places and carrying a wide array of feelings. I fear it is about to get contentious. Feelings will be at the surface, and passions will be running high.
Let’s look at some of those feelings, what impact they might have, and how to manage them.
- Fear – Some will say, “I’m afraid to go back out; I’m afraid the opening up of the world again will cause loss of life and more harm than good. I’m afraid to see my friends and family and shop again because I don’t want to get sick or cause additional burden to our hospitals and healthcare workers."
- Loss – Some will say, “I’ve lost so much already. There is a loss of income and a loss of stability. I’ve lost the savings I’d built up. I lost the team I was working with. I’ve lost the forward progress I had made with my family, my fitness, my job, etc.”
- Anger – Some will say, “I’m angry at the way this has all been handled. I’m angry that we didn’t see this coming. I’m angry that we took so long to do something. I’m angry that we’re doing the wrong thing now.”
- Uncertainty – Some will say, “I just don’t get it. I don’t know where to go from here. I’m not sure what’s next for me, my business, my family, or my community. I’m not sure which sources to believe or what’s right. I’m not sure even how to exist in this new space.”
- Exuberance – Some will bound out of their houses with unbridled joy at having survived this. Some will express heartfelt delight at being able to see friends and family and get back to something more like it used to be. Some will even say, "I’m so excited to tell you about all my stellar accomplishments during quarantine."
So, what is the problem?
Emotions are not inherently dangerous. And our feelings are our feelings – each of us has experienced a life journey that brought us to those particular emotions. But, when we fail to consider the other people in the room (or on Zoom, or on the other end of the phone, email or post), we can inadvertently cause damage, sometimes irreparably.
Take a look at these situations. Do any of them sound familiar? Have you been in these rooms?
- You get two people in a room who have the same emotions, and they can feed off each other, and the emotions can escalate unnecessarily and sometimes disruptively.
- You get two people in a room who have opposite emotions, and they can become quickly overwhelmed with conflict.
- You get any one person acting or speaking out of their own emotion without being aware of how others around might be feeling and they can hurt, annoy, irritate, inflame, or in other ways cause harm to someone around them.
So, what do we do about it?
We apply good, old-fashioned emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence isn’t about crying at sappy movies, it’s about knowing that, if you’re going to a sappy movie with someone else, which one of you is likely to cry, and coming equipped with the appropriate number of Kleenex.
Let’s look at the practical application of emotional intelligence.
Self-awareness – Take stock of your emotions. What are you feeling? Why are you feeling that? Are you able to hear your thoughts more clearly than you can feel your emotions? Recognizing your emotions will help you manage them more effectively.
Self-management – Spend a moment getting mastery over your physiological response to your emotion. Lower your voice, unclench your fist, take a deep breath, dry your tears, go outside, drink a glass of water, check your blood sugar and hunger levels, or perform any of the self-management tips we’ve learned over the years.
Other awareness – Look at the people engaged in the conversation with you and consider what journey they’ve been on. How is it similar to or different from your own journey? Where you find similarities, you can move forward together, and where you find differences you can engage with curiosity. Ask questions; seek to understand where they are coming from and what they are thinking and feeling.
Relationship management – Without judging – either you or them – find a way to walk forward together. Find something you have in common. Use words that confirm that you hear them, and you can understand where they are coming from. If you cannot use words that genuinely ask for their help, use words that communicate that you feel differently and that you would appreciate a chance to share your story. Or consider if this is not the moment to share your story. Be a listening ear for them instead, and choose to share your story in a different situation. Relationship management, the culminating stage of emotional intelligence, is the ability to take what I know about me and what I know about you and move us both forward.
I think if we approach these next few weeks with a deliberate effort and a critical desire to demonstrate good emotional intelligence, we can make life better for everyone.