The seasonal impact on our Emotional Intelligence

Why does it decrease at this time of the year?

Natalie Wilkie
Organisational Development Consultant

Why does it decrease at this time of the year?

It is that time of year where tempers fray and difficulties between us, colleagues, friends and family occur more often. We are looking forward to a break, but the tension and stress of the lead up to Christmas can be difficult for many.

Many people I work with really don’t like this time and find it very difficult emotionally for varied reasons, including family history and past trauma. On top of those difficulties the pressure to have the “perfect Christmas” with friends and family can be intense.

Why is it that we find ourselves arguing and disagreeing more often?

It is likely to do with the fact that when we are stressed or struggling, our Emotional Intelligence decreases. This means that we are not always as aware of our feelings (because we have less space to notice), our trigger points are much closer to the surface, and we have less ability to manage our responses. Our Emotional Intelligence (the ability to think about our feelings and those of others so we may manage our responses) is so much harder when we are in a difficult headspace.

We can then find ourselves in the middle of arguments with each other – someone has snapped at another person or hasn’t thought about that other person’s feelings before they said what they did.

The trick is to find time within the chaos before and during Christmas to actively notice and acknowledge the need to bring our Emotional Intelligence back up again, finding space to do this around the extra work that is piling up, the Christmas shopping, the parties, and the drinks.

Here are our suggested guidelines:

  1. Reflect on your feelings. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to really reflect on what you are feeling, why and what you can do to shift those feelings if you need to take action.
  2. Take time each day to reflect on the feelings of people around you. How are they managing? Are they stressed or full of the Christmas spirit, and happy and joyful (although this might well annoy you if Christmas isn’t your thing!)
  3. Keep strong boundaries around what you are comfortable doing including when, how often and who with. If you find certain people very difficult or tricky, then maybe give them a wide berth until you feel in a better place.
  4. Avoid challenging conversations that are likely to cause division and difficulty until things are calmer for you. It is likely that you won’t be able to manage them well if you are stressed, and the other person might be in the same boat – causing a perfect storm.
  5. Make time out when dealing with difficult behaviour. We are not saying that you should ignore behaviour that you find difficult, but if this occurs then take time to reflect on how you are going to approach it rather than flying off the handle. Step out of the room and give yourself time to get some of the strong feelings out. You can write them all down on a sheet of paper (which you throw away), scream into or punch a cushion (safely of course so you don’t hurt yourself) and allow any tears to come, use breathing techniques or whatever methods help you to manage your feelings. When you feel calmer, you can tackle the situation and stand up for yourself – but in a way that will be more effective than if you suddenly exploded.
  6. Think about what you REALLY want to do – do you really need to go to that party? Or meet up with Tom for drinks? Are you needed in all these meetings? Are you doing activities or events because you want to, or because you feel you should? We have things that we don’t necessarily want to do sometimes, but we do have a choice. If we are already overloaded, piling unnecessary things one on top of the other is just going to increase our stress.
  7. Keep doing things you enjoy and take any space you need. Take breaks for just you and find ways to renew and support yourself. Treat yourself to a nice massage as a present to yourself or go out and play a game of football with your friends – whatever feels as though it will give you more energy and support to tackle the Christmas period.

One of the most important things is to not beat yourself up if you do get it wrong. Accept it and understand why it happened, apologise if you need to and learn from it. When under stress we will all make mistakes in what we do. Hopefully we can reduce them using the above guidelines, but if we do fly off the handle then we have to forgive ourselves too.

Our Introduction to Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace short course is especially designed for people who want to improve their effectiveness at work as a leader, manager or team member. Blending personal profiling, one-to-one coaching and e-learning, the course is customised to suit your personal needs, and leads to improved self-awareness and wellbeing. Contact us for details.

Book a no obligation, free, 30 minutes session call with one of our experts.

Peter Totterdill at Glasgow Masterclass 2020
Natalie Wilkie