Navigating emotions during the holidays

EQ Durban, EQ South Africa
Written by: Avril Kidd
Category: Habits
Isn’t it ironic how December is always regarded as the season to be merry and yet it is probably one of the most hectic and stressful times of the year? The stress of wrapping up business for the year, driving on our roads and facing overcrowded shopping centers!! Finally we have the gathering of the clans, for many families this can be a stressful time in their lives. We also think of the matric pupils who nervously await their final results.

Despite all of that, this is the perfect time to explore the last of the competencies which falls within the CHOOSE YOURSELF area, driving us forward towards better self-management namely Navigating Emotions. Surprisingly (or maybe not) this is the competency that has seen the greatest decline globally since 2011 as per the latest “State of the Heart” findings. Navigating Emotions has dropped by over 9%. This decline makes sense in a context of rising levels of stress, increased emotional volatility and decreased resiliency. It is also the competency in Africa that we are most challenged with.

But what does Navigating Emotions actually entail?

It has to do with assessing, harnessing, and transforming emotions as a strategic resource or, put simply, harnessing and utilizing one’s feelings to move forward intentionally. People are often told to control their emotions, to suppress feelings like anger, joy or fear, and eliminate them from decision making and behavior. But without emotion people literally cannot make decision. So, rather than ignoring feelings or controlling them through sheer force of will, this competency lets you manage emotions, gain valuable insight from them, and then transform them so you create feelings that are helpful to you and others.

By learning to transform emotions as a strategic resource, we can become more aware, balanced and purposeful.

Instead of thinking of emotions as something bad that we have to suppress, we can begin to treat all of our emotions, even challenging ones like anger, as invaluable data helping us to be our best selves. We can turn something often seen as an adversary into an ally.

Here’s an example:

Imagine you’re stuck in traffic, running late and feeling frustrated. Someone is trying to get over into your lane, and you catch yourself mumbling or even shouting something negative at them. However shouting at them doesn’t change your situation. However if you said to yourself, “I am frustrated because I am running late and stuck in traffic and is there really any value in getting more angry and shouting at other drivers as it doesn’t change my situation but it does change the mood that I will be in when I arrive at my destination”

This simple admission reduces the intensity of your emotion and engages both the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain. Instead of admonishing yourself for feeling frustrated, you simply acknowledge the emotion, and as a result make it your ally. This is easily remembered as “Name it to Tame it”

Navigating emotions helps you take ownership of your life. By fully integrating your thinking and feeling, you are able to make optimal decisions, which is key to having a successful relationship with yourself and others.

The 3 components of Navigating Emotions include:

1. Assess

The first step of navigating emotions is to assess what you are feeling. Identifying or naming emotions, to yourself or aloud, can add some needed clarity to this step.

2. Harness

Recognize that there are not good or bad emotions: emotions are data. Taking the step back from “I am frustrated…” to “I am feeling frustrated…” helps provide space and lessens the power of the emotion. Recognize that the emotion is temporary and providing you valuable information about yourself and the world.

3. Transform

The emotion, however difficult, is now your ally. It has sent you data about the world, which you have accepted and can now use to be more aware and purposeful.

We can often find that our emotions are running high so finding a technique to help Navigate Emotions is important. Here are just a few you may want to try out:

Musical Feelings

Develop your ability to summon and transform feelings by listening to music. Make a CD or load your iPod with a variety of songs that capture a range of feelings. Listen to the music and allow yourself to experience the feelings that are stimulated by the music. With each new song, shift your feelings to match the new music. Was this easy or difficult to shift? With practice you will be able to shift from one feeling to another and become more emotionally flexible.

Emotional Audit

Ask yourself a set of strategic questions during periods of emotional strain and stress. These include: What am I feeling? What am I thinking? What do I want now? How am I getting in my own way? What do I need to do differently now? This creates the emotional audit which also helps to navigate your emotions more effectively.


Sometimes emotions are so strong and stress levels high that it is important to take time out and find something you enjoy to navigate your emotions. This can be exercising, chatting to a friend, reading a book, listening to music etc.

There is no better time than now – during the Festive Season – to start navigating your emotions better.

One usually finds that here at the end of the year things start slowing down, even if it is just for a moment. Take some time out for yourself to reduce those stress levels and deal with those strong emotions. Do that emotional audit and practice the musical feelings. This way you will be able to navigate through your emotions of 2018 and start the New Year refreshed and revitalized with the right emotions that will drive you forward for success.

We spend so much time stressing about which presents to give to our family and friends and yet the greatest gift that we can give to another person is to be truly present when we are with them. You have it within your power to give each of your loved ones the gift of your time and complete and undivided attention.

Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which ones to surf.

Jonatan Martensson