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How Meditation Increases Emotional Intelligence

Posted By Trevor McDonald, Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Emotional intelligence can be a sign of emotional strength, and it’s a trait that many people strive to achieve. But while most of us strive to become emotionally intelligent, some are confused about what that really means.

emotional intelligence illustration

What is emotional intelligence?

It’s common to confuse emotional intelligence with empathy, but the two are mutually exclusive. You can have empathy and not emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence comes into play when you have enough self-awareness to be able to manage your empathy.

Emotional intelligence is comprised of the following:

  1. Self-awareness — a conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, and desires.
  2. Social awareness — an understanding of other people’s feelings and motivations (this includes empathy).
  3. Self-management — the ability to maintain self-control, remain adaptable and have a positive outlook.
  4. Relationship management — the ability to work within a team, resolve conflicts and inspire leadership.

How to Achieve Emotional Intelligence

Think about emotional intelligence in terms of a workout. If you wanted to run a marathon or enter a bodybuilding competition, you’d have to train. You can set goals, but if you’re like most people, you’re always going to strive to be better.

In that way, emotional intelligence is like fitness. But instead of working out your body, you’re working out your mind.

Meditation is one of the best ways to exercise your mind, but you can also start with self-awareness. Step back and take a mental note of how you handle your own emotions. Are you quick to react without thinking things through? If so, you have some room for improvement.

Meditation is such a good mental practice that it’s commonly incorporated into addiction recovery treatment and other counseling methods. But you don’t need to be in recovery to strengthen your mind.

How Meditation Increases Emotional Intelligence

rocks stacked in a zen sand garden

Did you know that meditation can actually change the physical structure of your brain? A Harvard research team came to this conclusion after studying the effects of meditation. When you start to meditate, the changes you’re likely to see can help support your emotional IQ.

  • Self-awareness — Improved self-awareness is a major goal of meditation. When you meditate, you’re training your mind to focus in the present moment. Through meditation and mindfulness, you become more aware of your thoughts and physical presence.
  • Social awarenessMeditation strengthens connections between two areas of the brain that can help improve a person’s sense of empathy: The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the insula. The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex manages your personal perspective while the insula is involved with inferring someone else’s state of mind. As you become more aware of other people’s feelings and motives, you will become more socially aware.
  • Self-management — Meditation can help weaken neural connections in the amygdala and strengthen connections in the prefrontal cortex. Fear and anger are triggered in the amygdala while the prefrontal cortex is responsible for rational thought and logic. The combination of reducing fear and boosting logic can help you improve levels of self-control and self-management.
  • Relationship management — Meditation can help you become more aware and in-control over your own emotions. It can also help you become more aware of other people's emotions. Through increased empathy and understanding, you can improve things like teamwork, conflict management, and empathy. As you let go of personal bias, you'll find that you're able to have more effective discussions and better relationships.

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

If you’ve been avoiding meditation because you think it’s difficult or the thought seems overwhelming, you may be in for a treat. While meditation may be difficult to master, it is simple to practice. You don't need any special tools or expensive equipment. All you need is the willingness and a quiet space to practice.

Sit in a quiet room, preferably facing a blank wall. This will help eliminate any distractions. Next, set a timer for 5 minutes. Your goal within these 5 minutes is to focus on the present moment. Start by noticing your breath. Feel the air as it flows through your nostrils. Don’t try to control your breaths, but just notice them. If you start thinking about anything, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Simply try not to follow the thought. For example, if you remember you have to get milk, try to let it end there. Don’t follow the thought down the path of what else you might need or what you’re going to use the milk for. When the timer buzzes, you have completed your session. As you feel more confident in your practice, you may increase time by 5-minute increments until you reach 30 minutes.

Note: The mindfulness meditation described here is a different practice than transcendental meditation. Both practices are very beneficial. For an article about the difference between these two practices, click here. To download our tool for Transcendental Meditation, click here.

Emotional intelligence is a trait that some of the world’s greatest leaders have in spades, and you can have it too. Strengthen your mind through meditation, and you should notice a difference in your emotional IQ.


Trevor McDonaldTrevor McDonald is a freelance writer and recovering addict and alcoholic who's been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.

Tags:  addiction recovery  emotional intelligence  meditation  mindfulness  wellness 

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Mindfulness: As a Way to Optimize The Functioning of the Human Brain

Posted By Elisa Laconich, Friday, July 27, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Currently, advances in medicine, using technologies and scientific progresses in the treatment of diseases, have achieved an increase in the world population life expectancy. Nonetheless, mental health is still a pending task, screaming for our attention, especially considering that an altered mind is the main cause of death and incapacity; murders, suicide, car accidents, and psychiatric illness are daily news. In this scenario, practicing a lifestyle that promotes a healthy mind and that increases one's quality of life is more than justified.


In this matter, the mindfulness is the pathway of mental training, tranquility, compassion, connection with oneself and one’s surroundings. However, as everything we want to achieve, learning awareness also implies a degree of effort.  At the beginning of this training, it is not unusual to be distracted by such frustrating thoughts as  “I can't focus”, “I need to have a perfect outcomes”, “I can't stay still”, “I don't have enough time”, “I'm not doing it right”, etc... We should understand that there is no wrong way to focus; the correct way is the one that suits you. There is no correct way of living other than that which adapts the best to us, similar to “My Way” from Frank Sinatra, about a man who looks back on his life with full awareness and without judgment, and is especially proud of having lived his life enjoying every step of the way.

Therefore, despite that the awake meditation may sound difficult; for certain we have all already done it at some point. For example, if you have hung out just thinking about something, if you have prayed, if you have observed nature or someone for a few minutes, then you have awareness moments linked to the present.

In the last decades, neuroscientists have been keen to verify the effectiveness and brain changes that mindfulness can cause. This has lent greater robustness and reliability to this practice, which in turn has contributed to greater diffusion of this practice among society.

The truth is that science increasingly gathers more evidence that small changes in the mind lead to big changes in the brain and therefore into life experience. What flows through the mind sculpts the brain, especially if it is constant, lending credibility to the phrase: “The main activity of the brain is changing themselves,” Marvin L. Minsky.

The main changes in the brain result in neurophysiological modifications translated by the presence of certain brain waves and frequencies denoting synchronicity in the functioning, which means more coherence between connections and areas. According to brain scans, meditation can strengthen synaptic connections, as well as producing more cortical sulcus and gyrus, processes associated with increasing the speed of information processing, decision-making, better memory, and attention.

In addition, the effects of meditation practice are associated with morphologic changes, such as more density in the gray matter, which have a positive effect by improving cognitive, emotional, and immune responses, as well as better self-control, breathing, and heart rate. Moreover, other studies suggest that meditation increases the size of the hippocampus and frontal lobe, resulting in more positive emotions, more emotional stability, and more conscious behavior in day-to-day life. When we talk about more conscious behavior, we come to taste and therefore value manifestations from ourselves and from others, helping to free ourselves from the slavery of automatism—“stolen lives”—in which we live immersed every day.

In consequence, a quiet mind will always be more productive cognitively, and this will facilitate adaptation to change, reducing everyday stress and the impulsive reactions that tarnish our welfare.

 

“I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me”

- Albert Einstein

 


Elisa Laconich is a Ph.D. in Psychology with orientation in Cognitive Neuroscience. Partner of the ONG the world peace foundation. She works in the development of the neurosciences and the application of the neuropsychology in Paraguay. She has experience in the application of the neuropsychology to improve the quality of life in people who had brain damage through neurocognitive techniques and mindfulness. She was President of the First Congress of Research in Neurosciences Paraguay in 2015 and President of the Neurosciences Association of Paraguay. Member of the American Clinical Neurophysiology Society.


Tags:  Meditation  Mental Health  Mindfulness  Neuroscience 

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Wellness Strategies to Support Mental Health in the Workplace

Posted By Will Williams, Friday, May 11, 2018

In the USA, approximately one in five adults experience mental illness in any given year. The personal impact, from emotional distress to stymied career development, is a significant consequence for those affected, and the broader economic burden is similarly profound. Serious mental illness costs the USA $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year, and employers are increasingly required to navigate this difficult issue in a professional, supportive and consistent way.

wellness strategyIt can be difficult to set in place an effective framework for dealing with mental health issues in the workplace, but having a coherent wellness strategy in place can make a big difference, both for the bottom line and the experiences of employees. In this, businesses and other institutions have a big responsibility.

While the monetary burden is something employers have to consider, more important is their influence on the recovery and wellbeing of their staff when they are facing difficulties; inappropriate pressure, unfair dismissal and (even inadvertent) discrimination could have far-reaching consequences for the individuals involved. Anybody which employs staff has a responsibility to assist them as far as is possible when they become unwell, and to take great care in avoiding any action that may exacerbate the issue.

So what kind of wellness strategies should employers put in place?

Understanding Mental Health Issues

The first step in any wellness strategy that focuses on mental health is creating an atmosphere of openness and compassion within the workplace. Mental health issues have been widely misunderstood for many years, and are often also an “invisible illness” which might not be immediately obvious to a casual observer. For instance, someone with anxiety may appear to be coping well while secretly struggling, or an employee who performs brilliantly one day can find they are unable to leave their bed the next.

There’s also a societal perception that people suffering from mental health issues will be more volatile, less reliable, and less capable of competently fulfilling their role. Even if this belief doesn’t actually apply within a workplace, people who have become mentally unwell may be concerned that they’ll be perceived this way, and therefore nervous about coming back to work or being open about their symptoms. There may also be situations in which a person’s mental health issues manifest themselves in overwork and perfectionism.

Employers should endeavor to understand the mental health issues they may encounter in their workforce, using resources such as the charity Mind, WebMD, and the National Wellness Institute to familiarize themselves with the symptoms, personal experiences, and challenges associated with problems like depression. Issues such as grief, stress, and burnout — which can affect anyone — are also important to consider, even if they are more the result of circumstances than a diagnosable mental illness.

Creating information packs for employees can also be extremely helpful. Firstly, it makes anyone who struggles with mental health issues aware that an organization is sympathetic and knowledgeable about mental health, and therefore more able to talk directly about the subject. Secondly, it makes other employees more understanding and less likely to place pressure on their unwell colleagues — as well as cutting down on any insensitive or misguided remarks.

Workplace flexibilityEmbracing Flexibility

Having a flexible approach to working practices can make a huge difference in the lives of people living with chronic mental health problems, and supports those who are experiencing other emotional difficulties, such as bereavement. For example, someone who suffers from anxiety may have trouble sleeping, or their medication may make them drowsy in the mornings. Shifting or temporarily shortening their hours could help to keep them in work, and retain the skills, knowledge, and input which make them so valuable to the organization.

Flexibility benefits both staff and companies in a variety of ways. It allows staff to return to work more quickly, saving organizations the money they would have spent employing cover and dealing with the shortfall in work. By supporting people back into work, the employer also saves the funds it would require to pay redundancy, as well as recruiting and training a new member of staff. Finally, they won’t miss out on the value that particular employee brings to the role — the reason why they were hired in the first place.

From an employee perspective, when organizations collaborate with them to make returning to work as seamless as possible, they can benefit from a faster recovery and reintegration into the workplace. Returning to work often improves people’s mental health, boosts their confidence, eases financial concerns and provides a social outlet. If an employer can make reasonable adjustments, such as...

  • Creating a phased return to work after a period of absence, where the employee works gradually back up to full-time hours over a few weeks or months;
  • Being mindful of an employee’s particular needs, such as those with social anxiety being excused from meetings and allowed a private workstation;
  • Having the option to work from home if facing other people feels overwhelming - for example after losing a family member;
  • Allowing employees to see their doctor or therapist within work hours and as often as needed.
  • Providing frequent breaks and the option to leave the workplace without prior notice if the employee is experiencing symptom flare-ups, like panic attacks.

...then it makes the working lives of those with mental health issues easier to cope with, and ultimately assists them in regaining their health.

Considering The Impact of Stress

Stress in itself is very damaging, but when combined with poor mental health its impact can be profound - worsening and even triggering mental illnesses in many people. All workplaces should be aware of stress levels amongst their staff, especially as too much stress directly impedes most people’s ability to perform. This lost productivity is an expensive consequence for organizations, and if they become known as a particularly stressful place to work then their reputation may also be damaged.

MeditationPeople tend to work at their optimum in demanding, yet calm, working environments - places where they are challenged, engaged and focused but still generally relaxed, enjoying the “flow” of work. This quickly disintegrates when too much stress is applied: whether that’s through aggressive management, unmanageable workloads, or systematic problems that mean they can’t effectively do their job. People also become stressed if they are constantly interrupted, micromanaged, or pressured into situations they aren’t comfortable with - such as being given sole accountability on a project they aren’t au fait with or told they have to present a pitch.

A stressful and chaotic working environment will impact the mental health of the majority of people who work within it, as burnout and panic begin to wear everyone down. Much of the solution to this lies in working practices and company policy, which will vary from organization to organization depending on the particular demands of their service or industry. However, they are other strategies which most organizations can apply which will help prevent damaging levels of stress:

  • Encouraging a good work/life balance. Organizations should make it clear that no one is expected to work outside of office hours, and that work emails shouldn’t be read or answered in an employee’s time off.
  • Pay fairly and include good employee benefits. This is something that may be easier said than done, especially in small businesses, but low wages, not enough holiday time and poor sickness pay can be hugely stressful parts of any job.
  • Providing opportunities for employees to discuss any issues they have confidentially while ensuring that their concerns are addressed and resolved.
  • Implementing a workplace well-being program where employees are supported in living happily and healthily; through meditation classes, the appointment of a wellbeing officer and distributing advice.

Providing meditation classes — as Google and Nike have done — and if possible a calming space where employees can go to meditate, is one way to help people de-stress. Studies from Harvard neuroscientists have demonstrated physical changes in the brains of meditators, where the “stress center” (known as the amygdala) decreases in volume — convincing physical evidence of meditation’s positive impact on the experience of stress.

This has further implications for mental health problems like anxiety (https://www.willwilliamsmeditation.co.uk/why-meditate/mind/anxiety/), where sufferers feel a constant sense of danger because their amygdala is in high alert, even if there is no real threat. In teaching techniques like meditation, and allowing time in the day for people to practice them, employers will be providing those who experience poor mental health with a coping mechanism that will help them to better manage their symptoms.


Will WilliamsWill Williams is one of Europe’s leading Vedic meditation experts, and a wellbeing advisor to the OECD working group on Education. He has worked with the BBC, American Express, Spotify, Uber and many others in implementing corporate wellbeing programs, and his first book, The Effortless Mind, is available on Amazon.
You can contact him at willwilliamsmeditation.co.uk.

Tags:  Meditation  Mental Health  Stress  Worksite Wellness 

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