Using Emotional Intelligence During Times of Turmoil

I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday. As most people are doing these days, we got to discussing the Corona Virus issue.  She said, “I was in the grocery store yesterday to pick up a couple of things, and all of a sudden, I was grabbing things I didn’t even need.”  She went on to explain, “I saw this man grab several packages of toilet paper, so I did too.  Every aisle I was piling my buggy with items I have plenty of at home or in general do not need  I don’t know what got into me.  After getting home and unpacking, I was thinking, what the heck do I need this for.”   Sound familiar?  Have you found yourself getting caught up in a frenzy and let your emotions get the best of you?  It’s easy to do.

Our brains are created to react emotionally before anything else.  When information enters our brain, “man in front of me is grabbing several packages of toilet paper,” it travels to the emotional center of our brain first.   Residing here is your amygdala which is responsible for your emotions, I call her Amy.  Amy’s main job is to make sure you survive.  When the information about the man grabbing the toilet paper hits Amy’s sensor, she sends a signal to alert our emergency response mechanism so that we can fight or flee.  Amy (the amygdala) is attached to our hippocampus; this part of our brain stores our long-term memory.  So when an event occurs,  “man grabbing a lot of toilet paper!”  Amy will check our memory bank and discover when people start hoarding; there is a crisis.

Amy will then determine, “If I am to survive, I must grab a lot of toilet paper too.”   The reason we are so quickly drawn to an emotional response is the loop occurring between our amygdala, our memory, and our body, bypassing our frontal lobe, the region of the brain responsible for moderating our behavior.

So how do emotionally intelligent people respond in this situation?  You have to break the loop. Begin by breaking the connection with Amy (your amygdala).  When you see the man grabbing the toilet paper, and you notice your body responding with the need also to grab lots of paper say, “No, Amy, not today.”  This will be enough to make a break in the cycle.  Then follow by asking yourself a couple of questions.  “Is toilet paper on my list of things I needed to pick up in the store today?”   “Do I have an ample supply at home?”  “If I run out, is there a way to get more paper?”  By taking the time to ask yourself a few questions, you are re-routing the information to your rational lobe.    When the rational part of our brain gets involved, we can begin making better decisions. 

One way to start making this stick it to apply a new emotion to it. Instead of fear of crisis, you will assign an emotional of calm, “glad I picked up paper on Saturday” or funny “I hope he has a plunger to go with all that paper.”  When we react with this new emotion more regularly, it will replace the old memory/emotion. 

But don’t be too hard on Amy.  She’s just doing her job and really wants the best for you.  We just need to be able to get control of her and sometimes teach her new ways to react to situations.