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Calming Anxiety by Increasing Emotional Intelligence

One of the questions we get asked fairly often is: What good will come from working with an Upper Valley counselor? Goals and outcomes will vary depending on the client, but developing emotional intelligence is one of the possible outcomes of working successfully with a counselor. If you’re thinking, “What does this mean? How can it benefit me?”…we’ll be explaining the concept–and what it can lead to–in our article today.

Daniel Goleman’s book brought public attention to the idea of emotional intelligence in the mid nineties. His book, Emotional Intelligence, was based on the work of researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer. They created the term and introduced the idea that emotional intelligence was as important as traditional views of what it means to be intelligent. Goleman suggested those who possess emotional intelligence are capable of recognizing and understanding their own emotions as well as the emotions of people around them. In addition, people who have high emotional intelligence also have the ability to manage their emotions and influence the emotions of others. How do we learn to do this?

Goleman explains the concept by illustrating the science behind our emotions. Goleman, and many other authors since his book, studied the systems of the brain which regulate emotion. Our brains are built in layers. The first layer, closest to the spinal cord, is the most primitive. It can detect danger quickly and choose an action quickly, but it does not process the meaning of information. It simply sends a signal to the part of the brain which can initiate action when the primitive parts of the brain send the message, “Danger! Act quickly!”

The higher parts of the brain are more sophisticated. The cortex can process information and determine whether or not the perceived threat is real. While the primitive, or reptilian, parts of the brain may perceive a threat which must be responded to immediately, the cortex takes a little more time because it can analyze the information. Once it has processed the information, the cortex can choose to act or, based on the analysis of the situation, disregard what was originally perceived to be a threat.

Let’s look at an example. Your neighbor has a large friendly dog. When your four-year-old niece comes to visit, the dog bounds over to your yard, wagging its tail and barking loudly. Your niece has recently been frightened by a large threatening dog. She knows your neighbor’s dog and has played with it in the past, but today it reminds her of the other dog which knocked her to the ground as it rushed up to her. When the neighbor’s dog runs over to greet her, your niece’s reptilian brain shouts, “Danger! Bad dog! Run away!” She cries out and rushes to you for help. As you hold her and comfort her, she slowly realizes this is not the dog which knocked her down. Her higher brain functions have come into play. She relaxes and greets the dog she now remembers will not hurt her.

The skills which your niece has begun to learn are necessary for interacting successfully with the world. She has begun to be able to calm herself with help from an adult. Your calm presence assisted her to do so. If you stated calmly and clearly, “You seem frightened of that big dog,” you helped her begin to recognize and name her feelings. This is the beginning of self regulation. When our brain shouts, “Danger!” we can act quickly as it demands that we do or we can learn to assess the situation first.

Anxiety is an emotional state we can learn to recognize. We can become aware of the triggers and learn strategies for calming ourselves. With the assistance of a trained professional, we can also learn what the underlying causes for our anxiety may be. Next, we can begin the work of making change and easing the tension created by anxiety. Increasing your emotional intelligence can contribute to greater awareness of the triggers which arouse anxiety. Raising awareness of one’s personal triggers is the first step in reducing anxiety and navigating stressful situations successfully.

Finding the right counselor in the Upper Valley is the first step toward reducing the amount of stress and anxiety in your life…as well as creating positive outcomes for stressful situations in the future.

*Each individual’s circumstances are unique. The content of the Vermont Talk Therapy blog is intended to provide general information and should not be taken as therapeutic advice. To begin therapy or discuss your specific needs, get in touch with the therapists of Vermont Talk Therapy.

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