Work stress is as old as work itself. And so are the ways we respond. You can just imagine the first cave-clan’s leader spending sleepless nights counting stalactites, worried about how he was going to break the news to UG and the other hunters that the decreasing wild beast population meant they were going to have less to eat.
Unfortunately, stress appears to be on the rise. In test DISC a study conducted earlier this year at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, Dr. Diana Fernandez, MD, found that job stress not only makes workers unhappier but also harms their health. In her study of 2,782 employees at a large manufacturing facility, Fernandez and her team found strong links between job stress and cardiovascular disease, depression, exhaustion, and weight gain. After a tense day of pink slips circulating around the office, many workers told Fernandez’s team that they looked forward to going home and “vegging out” in front of the TV. In the American Psychological Association’s 2009 Stress in America Survey, 42% of Americans said their stress levels had increased since the previous year. A lukewarm economy and high unemployment suggest that 2011’s numbers aren’t going to improve.
But what if you could reduce stress without having to wait for the economy to improve? A promising stream of research linking emotional intelligence (EQ) to stress-reduction offers exciting new clues about how to beat stress in spite of economic woes.
A team of Belgian researchers led by Dr. Moira Mikolajczak found that levels of emotional intelligence-a person’s ability to understand and manage his or her own emotions and those of other people-determine how effectively people cope with stress. Mikolajczak found that people with high emotional intelligence report better moods, less anxiety, and less worry during times of tension and stress than those with less ability to identify and manage their emotions.
But emotional intelligence is not just about naïve optimism or disguising negative emotions by forcing yourself to put on a happy face. Emotionally intelligent people actually feel less stress. Emotionally intelligent people have improved their ability to engage their emotions and rational thinking simultaneously. This results in a more contained, comfortable reaction to stressful circumstances. As your EQ increases, you actually feel less stress. Without consciously trying to control their reactions to stress, high EQ individuals show fewer physical signs of stress reactions, such as sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, and increased secretion of certain hormones and brain chemicals. When facing a situation that sends most people climbing up the walls, a high-EQ person approaches the stressor with the same calm composure that most people demonstrate only in the most trivial of circumstances.
In other words, emotionally intelligent people not only claim to experience less stress, they also physically and mentally experience less stress.