Exhale readers know better than anyone, women are juggling an endless number of priorities these days. Jobs, family obligations, physical health, personal passions: it adds up to a lot of hours and a lot of emotions.
Psychologist Susan David has pioneered the study of emotional agility with this exact problem in mind.
“Emotional agility is how we can be better in navigating our difficult emotions, so that we can be thoughtful and effective in how we bring ourselves to our everyday lives,” says David.
Basically, our negative emotions are signposts. Instead of ignoring them, or getting mired down in them, David says we should be learning from that data and using it to foster a more balanced emotional life in the future.
“When we don’t have skills around emotions, then the emotions are bossing you around. And then you’re not creating space in your life to make strategies that will serve you in the longer term,” says David.
Especially when you may be feeling dozens of emotions throughout the day, learning how to translate their meaning is essential. According to David, negative practices are often picked up in families and through societal boundaries. For example, women are discouraged from displaying and feeling anger, which means they’re never allowed to navigate and grow from that feeling.
This field of study doesn’t just apply to family life.
“What I’ve found in my research is that the most successful teams create a psychologically safe space whereby people are allowed to dissent or disagree or be worried about a change, and the leader doesn’t just push it aside,” she says. For managers, creating a dialogue rather than a ride-or-die mentality could improve employee mental health and productivity.
“We live in a world that really would have us believe, especially as women, that we’re in a never-ending kind of competition. Where we’ve got to be the best moms, the fittest, the healthiest, the most successful,” says David. “Not only is this narrative of being positive all the time not realistic, it’s actually hurtful. It becomes a disappointment waiting to happen.”
Emotional Agility, Applied
David explains emotional agility using an example.
- Negative emotion: You’re feeling guilty about missing something at your child’s school. The mantra we tell ourselves is ‘you feel guilty, because you’re a bad mother.’
- Cause: Identify the root of the emotion.
- Balanced emotion: Here, it just means that 1) being a mother is important to you, and 2) in the future, allocating more time for that might boost emotional health.