Stressformator thoughts: how to measure emotional coping capacity

Katalin Lévai | trainer, coach

We all struggle with difficult situations. Stress is caused by conflict, challenges that require a lot of effort, and many other situations that throw us out of our routines.

Our brains prefer the “lazy” mode, because it doesn’t require extra energy. One of our basic emotions, surprise, helps us recognising situations that are different from the ‘norm’. It’s when our brains switches to an extra mode, trying to assess whether we need to intervene: there’s nothing strange or wrong. If the latter, there are two ways to deal with such situations: emotionally or problem-solving.

The former always kicks in, the latter we have to consciously engage. We like to think that we always do the second, problem-solving – because we are smart and thoughtful people, and the first, automatic, is – unfairly – ignored. But it is worth thinking about this for a moment!

To do this, I would first like to define what emotional coping skills are: all our ways of functioning that enable us to solve difficult situations outside of rational problem solving.

Richard Davidson, in his book, The Emotional Life of your Brain described these modes of functioning. Davidson did not work on the basis of theoretical assumptions or hypotheses, but used brain research methods to identify the dimensions of emotional coping. He called these “EMOTIONAL STYLES”.

He has identified six dimensions and their brain locations that play a crucial role: self-awareness, attention, peer intuition, resilience, perspective and context sensitivity.

These dimensions can be measured. Although it would be a bit of a hassle to put everyone in an fMRI or put an EEG helmet on them. But you don’t have to! We have developed and tested a questionnaire on over 1000 people that can reliably and validly test this.

The good news is that mapping these dimensions can show us a way out of the emotional chaos of difficult situations, it can help us to see where we need to intervene! We are not dealing with an unmanageable mass, we have handholds. We can see where we are doing well and where we are doing worse. We can take action for our well-being and mental health!


R. Davidson: Az agy érzelmi élete, Akadémia Kiadó, 2013.