How to Deal With Emotions at Work

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How to Deal With Emotions at Work

If you have ever dealt with emotions at work—congratulations, you're a human! Acknowledge that emotions at work are valid and normal, whether they be about something at work or at home. Although there is a time and a place for how you may express these emotions at work, you would be a robot if you never had any feelings about work.

You likely care a lot about your job and doing well, and disappointing yourself or others may bring up feelings. Not only that, but we spend more than a third of our waking hours at work. So it is not surprising how our jobs can affect our mental health, or that emotions about things happening outside of work can often pop up during work hours.

Here’s how to deal with when emotions at work inevitably do show up.

Acknowledge Them

Listen to your body. Often, we feel our emotions in our bodies before we can identify them. Is your face burning red or your heart racing? You may be more anxious than you realize.

Try not to make any decisions while feeling upset or agitated, if you can. Research shows that our decision-making abilities are compromised when we are feeling anxious.

Learn the Company Culture

Every company’s culture is different, and some companies may be more emotionally vulnerable than others. Even if you do work for a company that is more open about discussing emotions, it is still wise to practice some boundaries; your CEO probably doesn’t need to hear about your breakup. 

Find a Safe Person

In an ideal world, it would be fine to share how you were feeling with a coworker. However, we know that is not always the case of all coworkers. Find a trusted ally at work that you can vent to when things are feeling hard.

Model Emotional Openness

If you manage other people or are in a leadership position, you can set the tone to create a supportive environment where your colleagues feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

Embrace Your Emotions

But maybe your emotions aren’t a bad thing! They may just be your superpower at work, particularly if you are in a position that is client- or customer-facing. Being in touch with your emotions can help you build stronger relationships and alliances with others.

Accept That You Can't Pick Your Coworkers

We typically don’t get to choose who we work with. It's inevitable in a workplace, there will be many different personalities and working styles and not all of you will vibe.

It’s OK, you don’t need to be best friends with your coworkers—you just need to get the job done. We also know that sometimes these coworkers are the exact ones who cause your emotions at work to arise.

Be curious if there's something you can learn from working with them—even if it's just what personality type you don't like working with!

Create Boundaries

It’s great to enjoy spending time with your coworkers socially, too, but the more you hang out with them, the more entangled your emotions and work will be. This can make job transitions and conversations about compensation even more difficult.

On the other side of the coin, do your best to keep your home life at home—your morning meeting is not the place to bring up your fight with your partner. Boundaries are your friend.

Prepare Your Toolkit

But sometimes it is inevitable that you will feel a lot of emotions at work. At this point, it’s important for you to have a go-to mental health toolkit of things you can do when you are feeling this way.

Perhaps this involves dashing out a quick journal entry or note to yourself at your desk, taking a minute to do some deep breathing or even leaving a meeting to get some air if you see no other option than your emotions taking over.

Self-Care

Many things that may cause big emotions at work are symptoms of larger problems societally or within your company and are not your fault.

Self-care certainly isn't the answer for larger systemic problems, but some of the following suggestions can at least help you manage for what you can control right now for your own peace of mind.

Use Your Vacation Days

Your vacation days are a part of your compensation. You wouldn’t give part of your salary back, so why would you not use these paid days? Even if you are not currently able to take a vacation, even a staycation may help you charge your batteries so you aren’t a lit fuse waiting to explode.

Plus, it could literally save your life—a study by the World Health Organization found that longer hours worked led to an increased risk for heart attacks and stroke.

Get Your Sleep

Everything feels harder when we’re tired, and managing our emotions is no different. The quantity and quality of sleep we get affect our capacity for emotional regulation. However, this is a cyclical relationship and our emotions may also affect how well and how long we sleep.

Step Away for Lunch

If you are able to—even if it’s just for a few minutes—step away from work for lunch. Use your time for lunch to eat mindfully rather than wolfing down your lunch at your desk while multitasking.

Remember—your brain needs this nourishment to get you through the rest of the day. Plus, those who eat slower report higher levels of satisfaction with their meals.

Know Your Limits

This applies as much to the people you may work with on a project as much as the amount of work you take on. If you know that a certain person who gets on your every last nerve is going to be on a project that you are able to say "no" to, it may be worth your peace. No job is worth your health.

Get Professional Help

If your emotions at work feel like too much to handle—or are interfering with your work—it might be helpful to talk to a mental health professional who can help you deal with these emotions as well as rule out any mental health issues that might be contributing to you feeling this way.

If you’re not already seeing a therapist, check to see if your company has an employee assistance program (EAP). These programs are confidential and can provide you with both short-term counseling as well as help you find an outside therapist once they have done an assessment with you and know what you’re looking for. 

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