Recently, I've found myself thinking about the state of my emotional stability more and more often. I have been socialised in an environment where expressing emotions was a common and natural part of social exchange. There have been heated discussions within my family, I expressed strong emotions while playing soccer, tennis or video games with my friends... being loud and direct, expressing anger, sadness or happiness has been pretty much the normal way to go about things.
For an outsider, however, the amount of emotions that was on display in some situations might've caused confusion. I first realized this when my wife visited my family about 15 years ago. I believe she must've been quite shaken by the intensity of a "normal" discussion that took place in our household.
Now, many year later, I believe I've been re-socialized (mostly through being married to a Finnish wife and living in Finland for a couple of years) and I guess that I wouldn't enjoy the heated and partially very personal discussions of the old days anymore. I still love a proper argument, don't get me wrong. I believe it's part of my nature to engage in discussions, voice my opinion and address problems wherever I sense them. However, I wouldn't necessarily put as much emotional weight into my words and discussions would probably be way less personal nowadays.
What is emotional stability?
Based on my smattering of knowledge in the field of behavioural and personality psychology, I'd attribute the way I conduct myself in discussions to the personality trait of neuroticism, also often referred to by its opposite trait: emotional stability. Emotional stability is one of the five personality traits of the Big Five personality theory. According to different sources I came across on Google (and which I gladly disclose upon request), emotional stability refers to a person's ability to remain stable and balanced. At the other end of the scale, a person who is high in neuroticism has a tendency to easily experience negative emotions.
Being emotionally stable enables the person to develop an integrated and balanced way of perceiving the problems of life. This organizational ability and structured perception helps one to develop reality-oriented thinking, judgment and evaluation ability. It means you can withstand difficult situations, handle adversity, and remain productive and capable throughout. A good sign of emotional stability is if someone regularly keeps their commitments, whether that's handing in work on time, actually showing up to events they've said they'll attend, or playing in group sports.
On the contrary, people who score high in neuroticism are very emotionally reactive. They will have an emotional response to events that would not affect most people. A high scorer in neuroticism on a personality test has a greater chance of feeling threatened or being in a bad mood in a normal situation. They may find it difficult to think clearly and cope with stress.
Reflecting and working on emotional stability...
Some people get to a certain point in their lives when they realize that they are not as emotionally stable as they would like to be. Therefore, I strongly believe it is necessary to reflect on that quite regularly. Putting your own emotional stability or levels of neuroticism into perspective once in a while also allows you to realise if it is changing over time.
I'm currently doing just that. Not having any time and motivation to think about such things in a structured way for the most of my professional career makes me feel like I've missed out on the opportunity to improve in this field - which somewhat equals failing to work on my personality. And yes, I do believe you can improve your emotional stability and other personality traits over time albeit the fact that the Big Five personality traits are widely considered to be set within each and everyone and mark the unchangeable corner stones of our personality. However, research shows that there is a range for each of these traits - meaning everyone can be more or less neurotic, open, agreeable, extroverted or conscientious within his or her "natural limitations".
So, as mentioned before I have been reflecting on my emotional stability. It's quite interesting to do that if you get to live in a new environment. I do believe my emotional stability has had its ups and downs since moving to China. Looking back I must've been quite neurotic, always looking for problems where there were none, overreacting emotionally to situations that might've resolved themselves just by sitting still and waiting a couple of hours or days. Things had to be resolved and they had to be resolved immediately. And the sheer amount of energy I lost on that made me feel imbalanced, irritated and even anxious.
During the first year here in Shanghai I had a lot of time for myself. I did get more sleep, worked out a lot, started eating healthier and more regularly, etc.. These things help, no doubt about it. But of course, there is more to it. I'd consider the combination of mental, physical and social health to be key for a happy and balanced life. And the social side has been suffering, partially due to a lack of opportunities to collaborate and build work relationships, and partially due to the fact that I didn't really want to build too many close relationships - also taking into account my natural inability to do so. However, the overall trajectory is positive. I feel more in control of myself and my emotions. And I do believe this has a lot to do with having time to think and reflect on what is really important in life which is, after all, mostly depending on your personal virtues and values. But that's a topic I'd like to elaborate on at a different point in time.
To finish off this week's blog, let me just put out some of the very obvious things you can do to be more emotionally stable within your "natural limitations" - all of which have proven to be very helpful to me:
Get Quality Sleep.