I used to label myself as an “anxious person”. Every time I said it out loud, I felt like crap. I didn’t want to be this person, but it seemed like every time I had a free moment, I stressed about something. Maybe I was freaking out about my career, relationships, or just what was happening on the news.
I felt my heart race almost all the time, and heard panic-inducing thoughts like, “What if I made a mistake on my sales report and my boss fires me? What if I can’t pay rent? End up homeless?” Something like this happened all the time. After a few years of unintentionally keeping a tally of hot mess moments like that, I figured the evidence was conclusive: I’m an anxious person.
Somehow, I was able to function decently for a few years until the day I drove to work and cried the entire way. I couldn’t live that way for another day. By the time I parked, my mascara tears dried to my face. After a brief look at my raccoon eyes in the rearview mirror, I made a decision that would change my life forever. I wasn’t going to live like an anxious person anymore.
That day I quit my job, and later on, I built my website and started writing. But before that, though, I was thrown so far into burnout that it seemed like my body and mind would burst if I kept going the way I was.
It wasn’t until years later that I figured out what caused my burnout breakdown. I wasn’t listening to my built-in compass, and I hadn’t developed my emotional intelligence.
So, if you want to avoid a similar experience, I suggest you start thinking about listening to your compass. This post will help.
Emotional Intelligence: Your Built-In Compass
Your body doesn’t lie, even though I bet you’ve tried to lie to yourself. When there’s something wrong, even if you don’t know what, your body sends signals.
Sometimes, they’re physical, like feeling weak after a day of intense focus, and you forgot to eat. So then your body’s like, “Hey! Don’t forget to feed me!” Other times, your body sends emotional signals, like when you feel anxiety about an upcoming deadline.
However, the hard part is when your body sends these emotional signals, and you’re not sure what they mean and disregard them (or sometimes, even intentionally bury them). For example, maybe you’ve been feeling dejected in your career for months but aren’t clear on why. You tell yourself it’s good money, and that it could be worse and that you should be grateful. Logically, it makes sense. This argument is somewhat convincing, so you push the feeling down and get back to work. Then, fast forward a few months, and you have a breakdown in your car and realize you have no idea what to do next. That’s what happened to me on that fateful day.
This happened because my body sent signals like a blinking neon sign saying, “This isn’t right. This isn’t what you should be spending all of your time and energy on. You’re meant to do other things.”
Since I wasn’t willing to take the time to go deeper with this gnawing “despondent-ness”, it kept growing until I couldn’t handle it anymore and became burnt out.
So, how do you start to be able to understand your emotional compass and interpret your body’s signals? It’s all about developing your emotional intelligence, or as the dictionary defines it, “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.“
I think of developing your emotional intelligence like becoming a thesaurus of your emotions and treating them like a new language to learn.
How many times have you dismissed your thoughts, emotions, and ideas as unimportant because you didn’t take the time to learn your emotion’s “language”?
How to develop your emotional intelligence – Learning your emotion’s “language.”
There are countless examples of people dismissing a foreign person’s speech as crazy or unintelligent. Thanks to prejudice, if someone doesn’t speak the common language as their natural tongue, they usually get judged for it. I won’t go deeper into that can of worms, but the reason I bring it up is it paints an analogy for listening to your emotions.
Have you ever dismissed something because you didn’t understand it? Maybe you assumed it didn’t matter? If you’re answering yes, then congrats, you’re a human being like the rest of us! However, it doesn’t mean you can’t get clear on what your emotions mean.
Now that you’re aware of your emotions’ power and the signals they send, you’ve already passed the most challenging step: self-awareness. Becoming aware of your emotions, and specifically, what causes them, seriously sucks in the beginning. You can’t go back to “logic-ing” them away as I did with my “it could be worse, I should be grateful” argument. Even though self-awareness sucks initially, it helps you make a colossal change for the better in the future.
Here’s how to start developing your emotional intelligence so that you can pay better attention to your internal compass:
- Separate yourself from your emotions. Like, when you say, “I’m angry!” instead try, “I’m feeling angry”. It may seem like a tiny shift, but doing so will allow you not to take on a temporary emotion as your identity, and therefore, make them easier to understand and change.
- Ask yourself high-grade questions about what your feeling that leads to self-discovery answers. When you fall into an old habit of becoming an emotion you don’t want to be (like when I took on the “anxious person” identity), it’s easy to sarcastically ask questions like, “Why am I so horrible?” This is a low-grade question because it doesn’t help you in any way. But a high-grade question like, “Ok, I feel angry pretty often, what is my body trying to tell me to do?” will lead to answers that help you become the version of you that you want to be.
- Get Descriptive AF about what you’re feeling. The more detail, the better! People often describe how they’re feeling with the first word off the top of their head, not because that word happens to be the most accurate, but because they don’t bother to dig deeper. When you can become like a thesaurus to your emotions and get better at finding the most accurate way to describe them, you get clearer on what caused it and the best course of action to take because of it. So, the next time you want to say, “I feel upset,” challenge yourself to find the precise emotion. Is it apathy? Envy? Irritation? Unfulfilled? Keep digging, and don’t be afraid to google a list of emotions!
The Big Picture
It’s tempting to ignore your emotions and find ways to bury them with distractions or instant gratification (hellllllooo Netflix, emotional eating, drinking excessively, or pretty much any vice on the planet). Still, I promise to get to the heart of why you feel the way you do will be so much better in the long run.
I’m not going to lie; you’ll feel a ton of resistance when you first try this but keep going. It’s worth it.
Additional resources to help you implement what we talked about today
- The 6-Step Self Empowerment Process
- What If/Should Whiplash: Letting go of Fear and Shame
- The Mistake that’ll Stop You From Learning How to Deal with Negative Emotions
- 7 steps to self-discovery for millennials