In a moment of crisis, it’s not always easy to parse through the anxious thoughts that bubble up. How you choose to deal with stress often seems out of your control, but it doesn’t have to feel that way: Research suggests it’s possible to build layers of emotional intelligence that can act as tools to help you cope when you’re feeling stressed.

“You can use emotional intelligence to detect the presence of physical, emotional and mental stress indicators,” Svetlana Whitener, M.A., an executive coach, writes in Forbes. “Your emotions provide you with valuable information that you must use to decode and analyze before acting.” Research shows that your emotions can have a direct impact on your resiliency, and working to cultivate those emotions can benefit you down the line. Here are a few ways to improve your emotional intelligence to better regulate your stress levels:

Build self-awareness

The first step in improving your emotional intelligence is becoming aware of your emotions, and working with them, instead of against them. To do so, experts suggest getting curious about your physiological responses to stress, and acknowledging your emotions to build self-awareness. “Emotional strength is about the management,” Guy Winch, Ph.D., a psychologist and emotional health expert, shared on a panel at the 2019 Aspen Ideas Festival, as reported in The Atlantic. “When you get curious, there’s a defense mechanism there to take you to an intellectual level, which distances you from the emotion and allows you to think through it.” Winch notes that human emotion is not something to ignore when you feel overwhelmed, but rather something to embrace. Doing so can train your mind to better handle high-stress situations in the future.

Find a renewed source of motivation

Motivation is a vital part of emotional intelligence, and oftentimes, panicky moments can feel more anxiety-provoking when you fail to see the purpose behind your efforts. After all, a very moderate amount of stress can boost productivity and creativity, but any more than that can backfire. If you notice yourself frequently feeling anxious about your work, you could be feeling a lack of purpose in your day to day, which research shows can make you less satisfied with your job, and less motivated to work toward your goals. That lack of motivation could be adding to your stress, so try finding a renewed source of purpose — whether that’s a new target to hit at the office, a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, or a reminder of the deeper reason for your work.

Develop deeper empathy

Researchers have found that recognizing others’ emotions is not only a fundamental human skill; it’s an important facet of emotional resilience. By connecting with those around you and tapping into their emotions, you’re more likely to gain a new perspective on your own emotions, which can make you more equipped to handle overwhelming situations when they come your way. Grow your empathy muscle by approaching a colleague to offer help, or to take the time to listen to a friend without talking about yourself. When you take the focus off of your own worries and show empathy to the people around you, you’ll find that you can start to shift your perspective on what happens to you, and even self-regulate your response to stress. 

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  • Rebecca Muller Feintuch

    Senior Editor and Community Manager


    Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritizing mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.