Emotional resilience at work - Articles

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« 26. How to self-calm nerves at work »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. Author of "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions".

Many people experience anxiety and nervousness, not just generally, but in specific work situations. Are you one of them. You are not alone, if so.

Being in nature can be calmingFor example, you may be nervous when you're going for a job interview, speaking to a hostile group, meeting strangers in a networking event, managing upwards, talking to more senior people or presenting to the Minister or the board.

Having high levels of emotional intelligence does not mean you will always be free of nerves. All people get nervous sometimes. 

For some people nerves are crippling and they freeze, go blank or become distressed by them. For others, nervousness can be really useful. They can be a motivator to meet a deadline, to do extra preparation or to enjoy the thrill of a challenge.

High levels of emotional intelligence may mean you can successfully manage, reduce or control your nervousness when you need to.

I am not talking about pathological anxiety or nervous disorders here, I am talking about the normal types of nervousness that everyone can experience. 

This article will focus upon ways to self-calm your nerves in different situations at work.

There are many emotionally intelligent activities you can engage in when you feel nervous and the ones you need will differ according to the situation you are in. There is no one emotionally intelligent way to settle nerves, and each person responds differently to nervousness and the techniques available. 

These are just a small sample of the self-calming techniques available for nervousness that will help you not only calm your nerves but develop your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence skills 1: Emotions are just emotions

As far as being emotionally intelligent is concerned, what matters is not whether you experience an emotion but how well you manage it. In other words, emotions are not good or bad, it's what you do with them that matters.

One of the important parts about managing your emotions is not to be frightened of them. Emotions are just emotions.

Many people get frightened by anxiety and nervousness. Admittedly, they aren't usually pleasant, (although they aren't that dissimilar to excitement, which is considered pleasurable), but fearing them doesn't help.

Being frightened of nervousness, blushing or anxiety intensifies these feelings, and it's not emotionally intelligent. Part of emotional intelligence is being able to identify, accept and acknowledge your emotions for what they are: just emotions.

Knowing how you feel but without trying to run away from the feelings, avoid them, or bury them can stop nerves from becoming even stronger.

Simply accepting that "this is just nervousness" can help. This can stop you from adding a fear of nervousness of top of the nervousness. It is a practical way of using the principles of emotional intelligence to help you.

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Emotional intelligence skills 2: Focus on helping others

Many people who are nervous about public speaking, job interviews or talking to people are often, in my experience, suffering from a fear of "audience attack".

They think the audience, the interview panel or the people they meet are going to be very critical, want to trip them up or find fault in everything they do. All of this fear of "audience attack" increases anxiety and nervousness and lowers your emotional intelligence skills.

Instead, focus on helping the people.

  • For example, feel sorry for the people on the interview panel - imagine how difficult their job is. After all, somehow they are meant to know who the best person for the job is, and that isn't easy. They have to wade through masses of information, listen to lots of people and pick out the good bits from all the waffle they are given. Therefore, think of your job as being to HELP them; to help them pick you. When you approach an interview panel with a view to helping them to pick you for the job your nerves may lessen, in contrast to thinking they are going to interrogate you.
  • If you stand in front of an audience and think "I must help them learn this material", you will be less nervous than if you think, "They are waiting to trip me up".
  • When you are networking, if you think "I will help this person find out what we have in common" you will be far less stressed than if you think, "They'll not like me", or "They won't be interested in what I have to say."

When you focus on HELPING people everyone benefits, and so do your nerves. When you can do this you are using simple emotional intelligence skills to self-calm your nerves. We can all learn new ways to apply emotional intelligence at work to help ourselves.

Emotional intelligence skills 3: Watch without entanglement

Learn to become a detached observer of your anxiety and nervousness, or any other emotion such as frustration, anger or hurt. Become curious about it, about how it waxes and wanes, about how it develops and fades away.

Don't join in with it. Don't become at one with it. Don't think "I am a nervous person", or even "I am sooooooo nervous". Simply notice there is nervousness present. Make it into a "THING" to watch, just as you might watch a bird pecking about on the grass in a park, a bee on a flower, or an old man walking into your reception area.

Being able to be aware of your emotions is all part of emotional intelligence. Becoming entangled in them and gripped by them is becoming emotional rather than emotionally intelligent. Can you be aware of and watch your emotions or do you become an emotional mess?

Emotional intelligence skills 4: Generate options

An emotionally intelligent way to respond to an emotion is to generate options for managing it. Some of the options could be quite silly, some could be very wise, most will be in-between.

Having thought of a range of options for dealing with it, you can then chose the most emotionally intelligent response.

Whatever you do, don't let the emotion dictate your behaviour. Don't let it ruin your job interview or your presentation, or render you speechless at a dinner party.

For example, you might be about to drive on your own to a social event, where you don't know many people, and you feel your stomach getting on edge as a worry worm passes through and triggers off your nerves.

Consider what options you have to manage them. Generate at least seven options. (This activity alone can help lessen the anxiety as it distances you from it.) What seven can you come up with?

Here are seven I've just thought of:

  1. You could tighten your stomach some more so that it feels worse.
  2. You could stop and scream "I have a worry worm, help, it's eating me up," at the top of your voice.
  3. You might talk to your worry worm: "Hello, worry worm, I thought you'd come along for the drive, how can I help you settle?"
  4. You might focus on your breathing so that your diaphragm relaxes and you keep breathing calmly.
  5. You might challenge your nervous thinking. "How many people have I ever heard say to someone at a party, 'I refuse to talk to you, you are so dull and boring, I'm not going to waste my time responding to your greeting,' and then walk away?"
  6. You might stop in your driveway and have a quick dance, or jump up and down on the spot, so the poor anxious worry worm collapses in a heap of exhaustion and has its energy all burnt up.
  7. You could remember the last time you were successful and enjoyed talking to someone at a party and relive it over and over again, so you start to enjoy yourself, and the worry worms slinks away because it isn't getting any attention.

The point is here to be creative - not to be sensible - but simply to generate emotional management options for your nerves. There is no one right way to manage any emotion.

Your next step is then to decide out of all the options which one will best help you and keep you safe.

Having chosen the best option, you then need to act on it. In this way you are not letting the anxiety or nervousness eat you up or dictate what happens. Now that's emotionally intelligent.

Managing emotions, even anxiety and nervousness can be fun!

How high is your emotional intelligence & emotional resilience?

There is so much that you can do to develop your emotional resilience and the E.I. Institute has a number of options to help you:

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