I.3.1 How can we reduce stress?

Emotions are a much richer source of information than the unidimensional concept of stress. Negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, shame, sadness, envy, jealousy, and disgust are all creating stress. Positive emotions, such as joy, admiration, gratitude, and contentment on the other hand, lead to more prosocial behavior, to better cognitive activity regarding memory and judgement, and to better quality of performance. However, for certain tasks, negative emotions can increase cognitive performance. In a project comparing performance of individuals on verbal and visual tasks, it was found that having pleasant emotions improved performance on verbal tasks, while triggering unpleasant emotions actually increased performance on visual tasks. Further evidence that stress can in fact be positive for certain tasks!

In general, being afraid of stress will create more stress, and shorten your life. In a meta-analysis of the US National Health Survey, the researchers found that there was no correlation between reporting a lot of stress and reduced life expectancy. However, the people answering “yes” to the additional question “stress negatively impacts my health”, had a 43% increased risk of premature death. This means that stress only has negative consequences if I view it negatively by feeling “stressed” and worried about my health. When in flow, I will experience stress too, although this will be positive stress which will not “stress” me, but rather increase my happiness. And as we just saw above, it might make me perform better for visual tasks.

The capability to correctly read emotions is key for success. In his bestselling book “Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman showed that emotional intelligence or EQ is much more important than rational intelligence or IQ. Emotionally intelligent people read other people’s emotions from their facial expressions, from their voice, and from their body gestures. EQ is normally associated with empathy and compassion, although a sociopath with high EQ will abuse his or her emotion reading capabilities for individual personal gain without any regard for the other person. 

How can we adjust our emotional responses to reduce stress and increase flow? The goal is to become aware of one’s own emotions, and adjust them accordingly to obtain the most energy and the least stress. Emotional responses are shown through “honest signals”, reflecting personal values through body language, words, and online social networking behavior. 

The way how somebody responds to an external event through an emotional reaction depends on what we value most, intelligence (IQ), empathy (EQ), or creativity (Creative Quotient CQ). A believer in IQ will value measurable achievements, such as a position of power and glory, while somebody who values EQ will look for emotional closeness with groups of others. A believer in CQ draws satisfaction from creating new things, be it paintings, software, or pastry. As human energy is limited, there is only a finite amount of time and other resources that an individual can invest in either intelligent, empathic, or creative endeavors. This means that when calibrating the total energy an individual can spend as “1”, the sum of IQ, EQ, and CQ will be one, or written as a mathematical equation, IQ+EQ+CQ=1. The individual will distribute her energies among these three different groups of activities according to her priorities.


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