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  • Angela Reyes

Emotional Intelligence: A Self-Help Guide

As a full-time student and part-time victim to customer service, regulating my peace is a daily occurrence. The pandemic also required me, along with the rest of the world, to adapt to great shifts which inevitably resulted in stress and negative impacts on mental health. Emotions are our impulses to act by directing our attention and motivating us to engage in certain behaviors, which further affects our mental state (Gayathri & Meenakshi, 2013). Luckily, you can easily develop emotional intelligence (EI) skills that aids in effective management of our emotions and subsequently, improve our overall mental wellbeing.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence was first coined by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990. They proposed EI as a cognitive ability that comprises four levels: emotional perception, emotional assimilation, emotional understanding, and emotional management (Mayer & Salovey, 1990). Emotional intelligence has the capability to coordinate emotions to encourage thought, observe emotions, and control emotions to stimulate self-improvement. It has also shown to be a substantial predictor of organizational and educational performance making this a viable skill that benefits employers, employees, and students, alike (Brackett, Rivers, & Salovey, 2011).

A valuable model, particularly for stressed out students, is the Transformational EI Model developed by Darwin Nelson and Gary Low (2007). Their model emphasizes an education and skills-based approach, which entails us becoming more constructive and wiser. This enables us to acquire five key learning skills dimensions: interpersonal (relationship with others) and communication, personal leadership, self-management, intrapersonal (relationship with self) development, and recognizing and reducing potential problem areas (Nelson & Low, 2011). You can then apply them to enhance our academic, personal, and career success (Nelson, Low, & Hammett 2017).

Based on the Transformational EI Model, the authors provide four easy steps to help us manage our strong emotions in their book, “Emotional Intelligence: Achieving Academic and Career Excellence” (Nelson & Low, 2011). Each of these steps are especially handy for stressed out college students. Below, I describe each step while specifying what students should not do and what they should do, particularly if they are concerned about preparing for their graduate education.

4 Easy Steps for Addressing Strong Emotions

Step 1. Understanding

The first step to developing EI is developing self-awareness. Understanding your emotions means finding their roots: where did they come from? Some things to remember: give yourself permission to feel these emotions, breathe into it, and allow them to flow. Practicing constructive and reflective thinking are useful techniques to guide your process. Here is how you can better understand your emotions:

Do not. Start with negative self-talk: “If I don’t get admitted I’ll be a failure.” Restrain from erupting the initial inner story that you associate with your feelings.

D0: Allow space for reflection: “I'm aware of my feelings of anxiety and sadness because of the amount of stress I am under to get admitted.” Take mental notes of the feelings you experience when you think about not getting admitted into a program.

You can feel these emotions without exploiting your self-worth. Understanding where emotions stem from can minimize misinterpretation. Use values of compassion and self-acceptance to guide you in the right direction. Remembering how the emotional mind works is key- the tendency to act is part of the emotpional response. Without self-monitoring, you can revert to a habit of emotional reactivity.

Identifying areas that are lacking in your EI ability can also help you pinpoint what needs more love. To understand what needs attention, you can take EI assessments or self-monitor your own emotional thoughts and patterns. Creating a personal model for understanding your emotions can combat premature impulsive reactions. An article written by the Harvard School of Professional Development lists four different tests you may use to help assess your EI (Assessing your Emotional, 2016). You can choose among these four based on your preference and duration of the test.

Step 2. Identify

Identifying why your emotions are taking place is the next step. A reason for strong emotions is the response to an important event.

Do not. Misidentify the source of your emotions: “I am anxious and sad because the amount of work I have to do is causing me to have another anxious episode.” This statement has nothing to do with graduate school worries nor the actual source of stress.

D0: Identify and relabel: “The idea of not getting admitted into a program stems from my feelings of failure. Not getting admitted is a setback of my goals and my personal timeline.” These are the exact emotions relating to a common anxiety among students: getting rejected by their chosen programs.

Relabeling helps because you are identifying the source of your emotions. These emotions can occur with or without a stimulus and it is important to identify why this feeling came about. Remember, emotions are human reactions, an innate occurrence. They are neither positive nor negative. Learning to use positive self-talk and becoming self-compassionate and empathetic teaches you to be nonjudgmental.

Step 3. Label

This step is simple, yet highly effective in calming the emotional self. Labeling your emotions can be done through self-statements.

Do not. Mislabel your emotions: “The idea of failing scares me to the point of self-doubt. I frustrate myself by how much anxiety I put myself through.” This is mislabeling through the incorrect pinpointing of the emotions you may feel and why.

D0: Correctly label your emotions: “I am sad and feel anxious.”

If you feel many emotions at once, it may be overwhelming. Using emotion charts may be a more effective tool to help you accurately identify all your emotions. Labeling an accurate emotion brings in the more logical and reasonable part of your emotional processing, in turn calming the emotional mind.

Step 4. Express

Healthy self-expression takes personal goal setting and initial problem-solving. How are you going to move forward with these emotions? This step is particularly useful if you are feeling overwhelmingly angry.

Do not. Take out your emotions in an unhealthy manner: “I am going to eat my feelings away.” I typically resort to stress eating and overindulging, but do not allow your emotions to completely take over. It is also unhealthy- and frankly unfair- to project your feelings onto others. These feelings may manifest to: “You don’t understand the stress I’m in, you’re unhelpful.” Projection allows unpacked issues to bleed into external relationships with others.

D0: Think of new ways to express yourself that will make you feel better: “I can begin a back-up plan- apply to master's programs if I do not get accepted into a doctorate. Worst case scenario, I can take the year off and focus on research, myself, and curate a stellar application.” This is how I got through my strong feelings. It also helps in creating a security blanket for yourself.

Establish courses of change with behaviors based on your values (which might take some personal reflection). This is the opportunity to explore different solutions, create options, and choose a behavioral course of action. It will not be an easy process without thoughtful mediation and the ability to control your impulses. You will be required to step out of your learned and instinctive way of expressing your emotions.

Main Takeaways

Being emotionally intelligent is what separates you from becoming an emotionally reactive person who develops unhealthy habits, from self-directing prominent change and becoming an emotionally conscientious and empathetic person to yourself and others. Not only does it serve as personal growth, but it will also assist you through stressful events- the main ones being what we attribute to most importance: career and academics.

It is important to make the personal decision to fully develop your skills to become emotionally intelligent. Overcoming adversity is inevitable. However, with the right tools and mindset, you can persevere and prevail from these obstacles. By understanding how to regulate your emotions- and among other behaviors- you can create an environment where your emotional intelligence is not only welcome but can flourish.


  • Assessing Your Emotional Intelligence: 4 Tools We Love [Web log post]. (2016, November 18). Retrieved October 22, 2020, from

  • Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., & Salovey, P. (2011). Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Personal, Social, Academic, and Workplace Success. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5(1), 88-103. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00334.x

  • Gayathri, N., Meenakshi, K. (2013). A Literature Review of Emotional Intelligence. "International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention", No. 2(3).

  • Nelson, D. B., & Low, G. R. (2011). Emotional intelligence: Achieving academic and career excellence. Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.

  • Nelson, D. & Low, G. & Ellis, R. (2007). Emotional intelligence: A transformative theory and applied model of positive personal change. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 10(4), 30–35.

  • Nelson, D., Low, G., Hammett, R. (2017) Twenty First Century Skills for Achieving Education, Life, Work Success. American Journal of Educational Research. 2017; 5(2):197-206. doi: 10.12691/education-5-2-15.

  • Salovey, P & Mayer, J. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9: 185--211.

Angela Reyes

About the Author

Angela Reyes is earning her BA in psychology from Cal Poly Pomona. She is currently pursuing graduate programs focusing on multicultural mental health awareness and promotion both of which she is extremely passionate about. She is volunteering with the National Alliance on Mental Health in a mental health support group role online and leading a research project looking at the relationship between socioemotional factors on Latinx student’s educational attainment. Applying concepts from psychology to foster self-care and self-growth is a fulfilling practice she enjoys sharing with others.


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