We all know the workplace isn’t the best place to vent your emotions. But it happens. Sometimes a heated debate can push you to the boiling point of yelling or tears, out of sheer frustration.
I have worked with many women who have found themselves crying at work. It’s not uncommon; according to the Emotional Incidents in the Workplace Survey, nearly half of women have done so. I have also worked with male leaders who “can be heard screaming at someone all the way down the hall.”
When the stakes are high and the situation is tense, certain nervous system responses are automatically triggered, and extreme emotions can result. As much as you try to control it, you erupt with either waterworks or fireworks. And well-intended advice (‘never cry at work’) is no help at all.
You can learn to manage these responses and get a better grip on your emotions at work. It’s a good idea to identify the underlying sources of stress and make some positive changes. Proverbs 29:11 warns, “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.”
Here are 8 strategies for maintaining your composure at work:
1. Identify Your Triggers – Know who or what pushes your buttons. Reflect on a few of the most intense moments that still resonate with you (you can feel the heat rising just thinking about them!). Explore what in you is being triggered, and dig deeper to uncover your underlying fear or unmet need. Then think about how you would like to respond in those situations.
2. Stop and Think – When you feel yourself getting frustrated and angry, stop yourself. Pause and say to the other person, “I would like to think about this a bit more before responding. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to continue this conversation.” Walk away to keep your emotions from damaging the respect you seek from others. Give yourself the release of an emotional reaction, but make sure you do it where others won’t see or hear you. Take the time you need to clarify your thinking before getting back to them.
3. Remember Your Role – In a critical moment, stop to think about how you would like your colleagues to perceive your character. Maintain your professionalism at all times and be a role model for appropriate behavior. Don’t get a reputation for being a “hothead.” When your emotions start to intensify in a heated moment, concentrate your focus on the task at hand. Direct your attention away from your emotions and address them privately at a later time.
4. Breathe Deep – To flood your brain with oxygen, take slow deep breaths. Try inhaling through only one side of your nose (closing the other side), then gently exhale through the other side. Repeat several times. This may seem a little silly, but you’ll be surprised how calm you feel afterward.
5. Get Plenty of Sleep – Make sure you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all affected when you don’t get enough (or the right kind of) sleep. Consistent fatigue and overload will be detrimental to your ability to manage emotions.
6. Exercise – Be sure to exercise at least 30 minutes twice a week. The release of endorphins into your bloodstream will improve your mood and help you think more clearly.
7. Limit Caffeine – Caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. This is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a physiological mechanism that sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a quick reaction. When caffeine puts your brain and body into a hyper-aroused state of stress, your emotions will override logical behavior.
8. Keep It In Perspective – The issue that feels so intense and important at the moment is probably minor in the grand scheme of life. As soon as you forget about it and move on, others will too. But if there is something significant impacting your life, let your colleagues know. You don’t have to divulge all the details but you can share, “I just experienced a big change (or got some bad news) at home. I’m likely to be a little less patient right now than I otherwise would be, and I hope you can bear with me through this.”
There can be unexpected advantages to owning up to what you’re feeling when you experience it. Sharing your real human vulnerability, when done appropriately and in context, can increase your connection to coworkers and improve your working relationships.
Life can bring all kinds of stressors, including divorce, the death of a loved one, relentless job and family demands, or a career setback. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the coping skills they need to meet these challenges.
*** Surprises are the new normal; resilience is the new skill. ***
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