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E.I. Part 5B - Managing Worry and Sadness

Guiding Question: When you get worried, anxious, or sad, do you go down a negative spiral, or do you have ways to interrupt those negative thoughts and feelings and bounce back?

Key Takeaways: Feelings of worry, anxiousness, and sadness are natural emotions that we all feel. Being aware of what makes us feel this way, finding appropriate distractions, and then attacking negative thoughts can help us stop or redirect those thoughts and feelings and help us bounce back.

Have you ever been so triggered by someone or something that you become engulfed in and swept away by your emotions and can’t break free?

Keeping your emotions in check is the key to emotional well-being, but managing those emotions can be a full-time job. A life without emotions and passion is like food without seasoning. But too much seasoning can ruin your meal, and too much emotion or passion can ruin opportunities, relationships, and teams.

The goal of emotional intelligence and self-mastery over our emotions is finding the right balance. One of the things that makes finding that balance difficult is that we often have very little or no control over when we are swept by emotion, nor over what emotion it will be.

But we can have some say in how long our emotions will last.

In Chapter 5 of his book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman writes, “The art of soothing ourselves is a fundamental life skill.”

In a previous post, I wrote about how anger can sweep us up and engulf us, but Goleman also wrote about two other emotions, worry and sadness, and how they can do damage if not addressed or managed.

Managing Worry

Worrying is the heart of all anxiety. Worrying can actually sometimes help us - by mulling over a problem and providing constructive reflection, you might be able to come up with a new, creative, and effective solution. When we perceive a danger worth worrying about, we can rehearse what those dangers are and reflect on positive ways to deal with them.

But this doesn’t work great because new, fresh, creative solutions don’t usually come from chronic worrying. When we worry, we usually focus on the danger itself and get stuck in the Worry-Loop thinking the same, negative thoughts over and over again.

The Worry-Loop takes over our minds and emotions, locks us in on what we fear, and keeps us from taking action.

Goleman states the same three tools that we use to combat anger can be used to combat worrying:

1 - Self-Awareness The first step to beating worrying is to catch the worrisome episodes as quickly as possible. Monitor cues for anxiety, and learn to identify situations that trigger worry and the reactions in your mind and body.

What is something that worries you? What is something that you are worried about?

2 - Find a Distraction and Cool Down

With practice, you can learn how to identify the worries earlier and earlier, and when you do, find ways to effectively distract yourself so you can calm down. Remember, emotional intelligence is your ability to manage your feelings and emotions and escalate or de-escalate them as needed. The moment you feel yourself starting to escalate and spiral, find ways to cool down until you can regain your composure and think better thoughts.

The Signal Breath

The Signal Breath, a technique developed by Dr. Bresler at UCLA in the 1970s, not only releases tension but also signals to your body that relaxation is coming.

Take a deep breath and hold it, noticing the tension it creates in the body. After 3 – 5 seconds, slowly release the air, telling yourself to let go and relax. Repeat this sequence a second time. After taking two Signal Breaths, proceed to the next step while breathing freely and naturally.


Redirect your attention and life energy to others. Think or pray for a person in need. Send an encouraging text or engage in an act of kindness. Doing this provides a healthy home for your attention, it tells the threat center of the brain there is no emergency or needs to worry, and it will give you a deep sense of satisfaction

What can I do to distract me from or keep me from worrying?

3 - Challenge Your Thoughts

When identifying worrying thoughts, and as you find a distraction and cool down, actively challenge those thoughts. If you don’t, the Worry-Loop will keep coming back. Take a hard, critical stance toward your worries:

1 - How likely is it that this will actually happen?

2 - What are the alternatives?

3 - What is the next best step we can take?

4 - Does worrying about this over and over again help?


1 - What is something that sends you into the Worry-Loop?

2 - What helps you escape the Worry-Loop?

3 - Do you have a friend, teammate, or family member you can trust to help you escape the Worry-Loop?


The third emotion Goleman writes about is sadness. He said this is the single mood people generally put the most effort into shaking.

Feeling sad forces us to shut down. How do we combat these feelings? The same three tools that we use for anger and worry can be used for sadness.

1 - Self-Awareness Do you have certain things that trigger sadness? Researcher and psychologist Tasha Eurch says, "Self-awareness allows us to shift perspective, to see both hard realities and possibilities. We’ve found that people who are more self-aware are also more self-accepting.”

She says 95% of think they are self-aware, but only about 10%-15% fully are.

Knowing what triggers you and why could help you move past it and into a more positive mood.

2 - Find a Distraction

Thoughts are associated in the mind not just by content, but by mood. The most effective distractions are ones that shift your mood - an exciting game or play, a good movie, a funny joke, or exercise. Depressing thoughts are often automatic, and a distraction could be the break in thought you need.

A Small Triumph One of the most effective ways to lift your mood is by creating a small or easy win. Tackling a chore around the house, cleaning your desk, or answering a few emails can be a mood-lifter and positive distractor.

3 - Challenge Your Thoughts

Once you are aware of what triggers you, when you become triggered and feel sad, it helps to challenge those thoughts, question their validity, and think of more positive alternatives.

It's easy to feel sorry for yourself, but stepping back and asking, “Was that relationship really that great?” or, “Is losing really the worst thing in the world?” can help you reframe those negative thoughts.

Much of this information was taken from the introduction of Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence. You can find more about the book here: Emotional Intelligence

Previous E.I. Posts

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