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18. Stress shrinks your brain: how to stop it.

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and internationally recognised Emotional Intelligence Coach.

We live in a society that is stressful. How can emotional intelligence help? Feeling stressed is an emotion. How we respond to it and how easily it is triggered in us are both signs of how emotionally intelligent we are.

There are emotionally intelligent ways to handle stress, and there are ways that are not emotionally intelligent.

Handling stress is important, because to quote, Professor Con Stough from Swinburne University, a leading emotional intelligence expert, "Stress shrinks your brain". 

Stopping feeling stressed is therefore a health issue as well as an emotional intelligence one.

What do you do to stop yourself feeling stressed, under pressure or overwhelmed? 

What do you do when these stress feelings arise? 

How quickly can you turn them around?

Struggling to manage your emotions or read others? Sign up for our five-star emotional intelligence coaching package and have your emotional intelligence assessed on the MSCEIT as part of that. Emotions will become easier. Click here to find out more.

One of the big pressure points of our society and workplaces is the need to keep up-to-date. We feel under pressure to keep up with technology and to keep up-to-date with all the information that floods into our lives daily.

We are also under pressure to hold down jobs, to pay off high debts and mortgages, to look after our families, and so on. The list of pressures is endless. So how can we stay up-to-date and handle all our responsibilities, but still be relaxed and live an emotionally healthy life?

Here are some emotionally intelligent ways to stop or handle stress.

Handle Stress tip 1: Write down your priorities

Identify your priorities. Write them down. Put them somewhere where you can see them easily. And read them. And read them often. Keep reminding yourself of your priorities and attend to them first.

When you don't know your priorities you can be pulled in too many directions at once.

It is also too easy to do the minor tasks, to become involved in the trivial and to do the things that please other people, instead of doing what's important. Do what's important.

This is emotionally intelligent because it well help you to not trigger your stress so easily.

Handle stress tip 2: Learn to say no (politely)

In order to meet your priorities you need to be able to say "no" to other opportunities that come your way.

Do not simply agree to do activities or tasks, just because you've been asked. Do not simply watch an interesting TV program just because it's on. Don't say "yes" just because something is interesting or nice. Don't say "yes" to anything else until you have attended to your priorities.

Say "yes" only to your priorities until you have dealt with them. You do not have the time to do everything that is nice. There are enough nice things to do to take up every moment in your life without your doing anything of value or importance.

Learn to say "no, thank you" nicely and firmly; and to stick to it. This is emotionally intelligent because it means you are managing your emotions in a productive way.

Handle stress tip 3: Look after your health

When stress and pressure increase most people stop doing what they need to do to stay healthy. This is the time you must do what you need to do to stay healthy.

  • Eat even healthier food.
  • Go to bed even earlier.
  • Exercise even more.

Look after yourself at times of stress and then you'll cope much better with the pressure. What will you do today to take care of yourself?

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Handle stress tip 4: Increase your Vitamin B intake

A clinical trial conducted at Swinburne University of Technology, by Professor Con Stough and his team, showed that those who took Vitamin B supplements over a three month period had lower levels of stress at the end of the trial period than when they began the study.

In comparison the group who were given a placebo had no significant difference. Professor Stough, says:

At the beginning of the trial we assessed sixty participants on factors such as personality, work demands, mood, anxiety and strain, and then re-evaluated them at 30 and 90 days. At the end of the three-month period, those in the Vitamin B group reported much lower levels of work stress than they did at the beginning of the trial. In fact, participants experienced an almost 20 per cent improvement in stress levels. On the other hand, those in the placebo group showed no significant change.

Being emotionally intelligent does not mean you should be superman or woman in managing enormous workloads, it means you have emotions that drive healthy behaviour and you seek the support you need.

Full article published in: "The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress". Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, Vol. 26, no. 7 (Oct 2011), pp. 470-476.

Handle Stress tip 5: Clear out your head

During the day most of us pick up a lot of negativity and dirt in our heads. We hear anger outbursts, we generate our own frustrations, and people are negative and careless in how they talk to us or e-mail us.

All this dirt can stick in our minds. It muddies our thinking, it saps our energy, and it weighs us down mentally. It eats away at both our energy levels and happiness and keeps the stress going.

Just as you wash your body each day, get into the habit of clearing away your mind dirt, of getting rid of any negativity, resentments or anxieties that you have picked up during the day.

How you do this, whether through meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi, dance, tapping, painting, voice toning, singing or other cleansing energising activity, doesn't matter. It does matter that you do it. Don't be worn down by negative junk in your mind. It is all part of stress and you don't need it.

Be emotionally intelligent and get rid of negative emotions quickly, don't leave them to fester.

Handle stress tip 6: Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation has been proved to reduce stress.

Research by Lisa Flook, Professor Richard Davidson and his team, for example, have found that mindfulness training can help reduce stress and burnout in teachers.


Watch Professor Richard Davidson tell you briefly about the study:

Handle stress tip 7: Keep things in perspective

Having only one core focus means it is easy to get things out of perspective. 

  • Devote your time to more than one or two main activities.
  • Don't just devote all your time to work, for instance, or your life will be out of balance.
  • Do not devote all your time to your family or your own life will be out of balance.

For example, I work a lot and I am also developing my garden and I attend a meditation group. This means that one activity doesn't dominate and therefore it is easier for me to keep things in perspective. 

If I have a problem at work, I can do the gardening and the work issues get smaller. If I have a problem with the family then I can go to my meditation group and the problem in the family becomes smaller. And so it goes.

When you concentrate on only one activity, that activity takes you over and your perspective can be lost. When your perspective is lost problems can seem much bigger than they really are.

When you keep your activities in balance, happiness, health and success are more likely to come your way. You are looking after your own emotional well being and feelings of stress are less likely to arise, and when they do they may stay for shorter periods. Now that's emotionally intelligent. 

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