Want to De-stress Your Brain? Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
I get a lot of questions about why someone should bother with developing their emotional intelligence. After all, you have gotten this far in life and done pretty well, and besides who has the energy or time? I understand, if I am anything it is pragmatic. What I can tell you is that there are so many benefits to developing your EQ, it is rather phenomenal. That is why I am now a certified Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Assessor, and I utilize these tools (among others) to assist my clients in improving their practices and lives.
One Major Benefit: Retraining Your Brain to Reduce Stress.
Effectively coping with on-going long-term stress is an important reason why emotional intelligence skills and mindset practices are essential for the health of your legal practice and long term wellbeing. You can train your brain to perceive stressful events differently. What is more, that difference in perception will correspond with increased creativity, better relationships, superior long term thinking/analytical skills, and a stronger immune system, along with other benefits. The fact is high levels of on-going stress impair all of those functions in your brain and body.
Stress is something we experience a lot – especially these days. Did you know that stress has been increasing in our culture for the last 30 years? It is up by about 20-25%. That is a lot of stress, especially if we are talking about the already uber-stressful legal environment. Few professions have the long-term, never ending stress we experience in the law. That is a major reason for our leading rates of depression, substance abuse, burnout and suicide. Emotional intelligence and mindfulness practices assist you to perceive life and ultimately experience previously stressful situations differently. As I explain below, it is your perception of an event as a threat that leads to debilitating stress.
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Your Brain and Stress
Your brain has a small organ called the amygdala that is responsible for responding to threats. It does not differentiate its response to the kind or severity of a threat. When it is triggered you go into a flight, fight or hide response – adrenaline pulsing through your veins. The thalamus is the messenger between your brain’s perception of a threat and the amygdala. The thalamus monitors your brain activity, and when it senses a perceived threat it shoots that information to the amygdala and your body instantly responds.
In our increasingly stressful world, our amygdala is seriously overworked and our brains have become hyper sensitized into perceiving many experiences as an amygdala worthy “threat”. On-going stress leads to increasing sensitivity in your brain so that it is, in turn, more likely to perceive whatever you are experiencing as a threat. As a result, your brain spirals into an increasing pattern of taking what you are experiencing at any given moment as a threat needing an immediate amygdala adrenalin spike response. So you respond by wanting to fight or hide or run.
Think about it. This is the “short fuse” phenomena of road rage or snapping at your associate when they ask a question you think wastes your time. Or, losing it with your kid when normally you know they are just being a kid. Or, when you know you need to address a problem with a co-worker but it is easier to avoid it or ignore it and basically hide. You end up not showing up when you know that is not in your best interest.
Tips for Reducing Your Stress & Increasing EQ
There are very few events during our day where fight, hide or run are helpful. Particularly as effective advocates for our clients, we do not benefit (nor do our clients) from a triggered response. We need our capacity to think critically and creatively, to calmly process options and flexibly arrive at solutions. To be the best and most effective lawyers or leaders, we cannot premise our behavior or representation on trigger responses.
I have seen plenty of examples where lawyers lost their tempers or “blew up” a settlement or deal for no apparent reason other than a supposed offended ego. One partner I worked for early on had a habit of breaking phones. How is that productive or helpful? How did that serve the client or his practice or health?
Perception is Everything.
What you need to remember is that your brain’s response to a trigger are all about perception. This is where emotional intelligence and mindfulness practices can help you. What does your brain think is a threat? Whatever your brain has learned is a threat will be a trigger.
Of course, the fact the response is learned also means that your brain can be trained to respond differently. Through practice and mindful awareness you can learn to develop different responses that will lessen stress and increase your ability to effectively and meaningfully respond. First, you need to learn your patterns and triggers. Pay attention to the way your body responds in a situation and how you automatically react. Are your emotions and actions in line with a rational view of the situation? Do your best to be honest with yourself.
It Only Takes 6 Seconds
This assessment requires you to step back and be the observer. I am not talking about taking a huge amount of time, either. It takes around 6 seconds to reconsider your options and refocus your response to be more in-line with your long term goals and priorities.
Learn to take a time out, literally, when you feel yourself over-reacting. It is not easy to do, especially in the heat of a moment. But, most situations do not require an immediate split-second response. Do your best to remember that fact and give yourself time to breath, calm down and evaluate your options for maximizing your goals.
You will not get it right all the time, but every time that you do take that pause, you will strengthen those muscles and reduce your overall stress level. That is what emotional intelligence is all about. Avoiding an auto-pilot response and training your brain to respond appropriately to what you are experiencing. Learn to do that and you will reduce your stress measurably.
Let me know how you are doing, and how I can support you in reaching your goals. Remember – Success is a Team Sport. You don’t have to do it alone.