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Developing emotional intelligence may help us through times of depression or anxiety, according to a recent post by Dan Mager, author of Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain. So how do we develop emotional intelligence? By establishing a mindfulness practice, he says. The result of which, “assigns meaning to our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations; [and helps us to] mediate between our internal and external experiences; link our neurophysiology with our thoughts and feelings; and determine the quality of our interactions.”

Dan Mager goes on to say: 

Internal EI [Emotional Intelligence] skills include the ability to identify one’s own emotions, be consciously aware of them as they happen, and regulate them and their effects on one’s behavior. Interpersonal or interactional EI skills include the ability to accurately sense and empathize with the emotions of other people and use the awareness of your own emotions and those of others to negotiate interactions skillfully. These skills are part and parcel of mindfulness practice.

Emotional intelligence requires effective communication between the rational-logical part of the brain—the prefrontal cortex—and the emotional part of the brain-centered in the amygdala within the limbic system. Mindfulness is a bridge that connects these two areas of the brain, and consistent practice of these skills builds new neural pathways that over time become stronger and more efficient.

Mindfulness can help you better tolerate and stay with difficult emotions, so they don’t hold you hostage. You can increase your ability to bear discomfort—physically and emotionally—and be present with it, without being suffocated by it or needing to push it away. When you enlarge your capacity to bear emotional discomfort, you are less likely to react automatically to your emotions or let them control you.

More people struggle with anxiety than perhaps any other emotion. The word worry originates from an old English word for strangle. The anxiety that comes with worrying, with its anticipatory fear of what might or could possibly happen in the future, strangles your ability to be skillful in the here and now.

Mindfulness practice can prepare you to recognize and observe the experience of anxiety, fear, sadness, guilt, depression, loneliness, emptiness, frustration, anger, and other distressing emotions—along with the negative thinking that both contribute to these emotions and is reinforced by them—with acceptance and perspective. 

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