In last week’s blog we discussed the protective role of emotional intelligence. Specifically, it’s ability to act as a buffer against depression. Here are the next list of factors where depressed individuals and non-depressed individuals in our study differed the most:
Score for depressed group: 56
Score for non-depressed group: 73
Self-esteem is like a turtle’s shell, a knight’s armor, or, for superhero fans like me, Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. Why? Because it can protect you against harm: Criticism, errors, rejection, and failure will barely dent your solid self-esteem armor. It’s the one thing that every parent should nurture in their children. By all means, teach them the importance of respecting rules, of studying hard, of sharing, of being vigilant around strangers, and of not sticking stuff up their nose. But a strong inner core in the form of self-esteem will dictate the direction of your child’s life, including the type of friends he/she hangs out with, who he/she dates, how well he/she does in school, his/her career path, and his/her ability to deal with life’s ups and downs. As someone who didn’t grow up with a whole lot of self-esteem, I can tell you the repercussions are considerable. Not surprisingly, individuals who are depressed are more likely to suffer from a poor self-image, a lack of self-respect, and a lack of belief in themselves. They perceive themselves as having very little value, with very little to offer to the world.
“It’s not what you are that is holding you back. It’s what you think you are not.”
Score for depressed group: 58
Score for non-depressed group: 72
I’ll be the first one to admit that I am NOT good under stress. It’s only my sense of dignity that prevents me from curling up into a ball on the floor when I am freaking out about something. My coping strategy is the following:
Step 1: Panic
Step 2: Panic
Step 3: Panic
Step 4: Obsessively think about what’s bothering me
Step 5: Do some research on the problem in order to find a solution
Step 6: Eat fries
Step 7: Feel anxious and depressed until it’s over
The fact of the matter is simple: When you’re stressed, you apply your own brand of coping strategies, be it talking to a professional, getting support from loved ones, exercising or binge eating. Naturally, there are healthy ways to cope with stress and maladaptive ways. The healthier your coping mechanism, the more likely you will thrive under stressful circumstances. The unhealthier your strategy, the greater the chances that you’ll exacerbate the situation, which can eventually lead to burnout and/or depression. This is why it’s so important to learn healthy coping techniques, because life isn’t likely to be a perfectly paved road; it’ll be bumpy, messy, and slippery.
Score for depressed group: 48
Score for non-depressed group: 60
Like my cat, I’m a creature of habit – obsessively compulsively so. I have the same morning routine every day, I clean my place the same way and, let’s face it, think the same thoughts every day. If you decide to shake up my routine (say, call me to go out for breakfast and then go for a stint of shopping), I won’t like you very much. I’ll mentally run through my schedule to see if I can accommodate your renegade idea, panic as I try to figure out how to fix up the routine that you’ve just messed up, and reluctantly agree to your plan, secretly resenting you the whole time. Simply put, I don’t adapt well to change. Every once in a while I’ll get the urge to try something new – a new dish at a restaurant, a new route to work – but most of the time, I’m quite content in my perfect routine bubble. The problem? When anything in my life goes off its perfectly plodding course – which is like, all the time – I panic, and scramble to adapt.
Life is full of twists in the road. It’s going to suck sometimes, plain and simple. Those who are resilient, resourceful, and able to adapt quickly will be able to cope more easily. Those like me who are not very adaptable will find themselves feeling out of their depth, unable to cope, and sadly wondering why life just won’t go their way.
Score for depressed group: 46
Score for non-depressed group: 58
One of the main reasons why I hate to shop is not just because of the lack of parking, the crowds, or the need to separate myself from my hard-earned money: It’s the pushy salespeople. I’ve got a closet full of stuff that I was induced into buying because I didn’t assert myself. The problem is, when you don’t stand up for yourself in situations where someone is overstepping their boundaries, they’ll think it’s ok to treat you that way – and they’ll keep doing it. Depressed individuals are less likely to assert their desires and to speak up, often out of fear of rejection. Rather than rock the boat, they just try to live with their discontent.
“Boundaries are a part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.”
Score for depressed group: 57
Score for non-depressed group: 68
If you were to ask me what my top 3 faults are, they’d roll off my tongue like my favorite song. I’d probably give you more than 3. If asked to list my strengths, that would take me a bit more time. When you have a tendency to focus on everything that you don’t like about yourself it will become a habit – to the point where you won’t acknowledge, let alone realize, your strengths. Happy people know what makes them special, even if it’s something as seemingly minor as knowing how to fold bed sheets just right (especially the ones with the elastic around the corner edges). People who are vulnerable to depression see nothing but their faults and are completely unaware of what makes them unique and amazing.
While I would love to develop my spatial intelligence (mostly because I can’t parallel park) or my mathematical intelligence (because I call fractions “those things with the number, then the line, then the number”), it’s my emotional intelligence that I am currently working on developing. Your EQ has a significant impact on how you interact with others, the quality of your relationships, and, as we’ve seen, your mental health. If you’re uncomfortable with your emotions, be they your own or those of others, you’ll experience the repercussions in your everyday life. But like other intelligence types, EQ can be nurtured and improved. I’d highly recommend the services of a life coach, or a therapist if you’d like to dig a little deeper into your emotional habits (and particularly if you’re struggling with a mental health issue). Here are a few other tips:
- Recognize emotions for what they are. We have been taught that emotions are reactions, often uncontrolled, to situations or people around us. This isn’t the case. Your emotions are a signal; they are messages that have the potential to offer you important information if you’re willing to take the time to reflect on what you’re feeling. So when you get upset with your partner because he doesn’t wash the dishes, or with your colleague because she doesn’t refill the paper in the printer, stop and ask yourself: Is my anger really related to the dishes/paper, or something more? Maybe you’re upset because deep down you feel disrespected, or feel that people take advantage of you. Maybe you’re using the dishes/paper situation to vent your anger about a more serious, unresolved issue. The point is, don’t let negative emotions simmer (or boil over) unchallenged. Milk them for information.
- Take small steps if you’re not used to expressing emotions. Start with those that are the least intimidating, like gratitude, awe, or boredom. For example, try offering someone you are comfortable with a genuine compliment, and then take it one step further to an expression of appreciation. When you need to communicate a negative feeling, start by writing down how you feel before saying it. Like learning any new skill, emotional expression will get easier with time and practice.
- Let your emotions out. A study on life satisfaction and negative life events revealed that people who wrote out what was bothering them or who talked things out with someone showed an improvement in mental health and life satisfaction. So when something is bothering you, don’t keep it locked up inside. A problem can often feel less intense when we can share that burden, so to speak. Release all your negative feelings and thoughts in a journal. Talk to a trusted friend, a spiritual leader, a therapist, or join an online community that focuses on helping others get through personal and emotional difficulties. There is always help out there.
- Nurture your mental and emotional flexibility. In today’s world, the ability to get beyond black-and-white thinking, to be open-minded with others, to change one’s way of looking at events, and to focus on the best solution for a given situation is essential for success. Without flexibility and a willingness to consider the perspectives and feelings of others, you are creating additional, unnecessary obstacles for yourself. Start with the following:
- Build meaningful relationships that teach you about human nature.
- If you’re not sure how someone is feeling, ask for clarification (if it’s appropriate); a simple “How are you feeling?” or “Could you explain your perspective to me?” might do the trick.
- Put aside your own opinions and views, and look at the world through the other person’s eyes.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”