It's Monday. You had a terrible weekend where all your plans were literally rained out and all your friends had better things to do (or so it seems). You're still at least ankle-deep in a self-pity party when that coworker, you know, that guy, makes another one of his snide little comments. Before you blow that fuse that just started to burn, let's talk about how to control your emotions at work.
Why it's important to control your emotions at work.
Self-control is about more than getting to the gym or eating healthier. It's also about maintaining a healthy internal biosphere. Managing stress, prioritizing self-care and, yes, managing your emotions are all a part of a healthy psyche.
When it comes to work, knowing how to control your emotions is so important we should be talking it up in our interviews. For real. Being able to maintain your calm in a stressful situation is a degree of professionalism that speaks to your value as an employee (and even, hello, a potential leader).
Nobody wants to work with or for the woman who spazzes during the lunch rush or takes out her frustration over a missed deadline on everyone she sees. That's a quick trip to a toxic situation that can bring down the vibe of an entire office.
How to control your emotions at work.
We all get into a funk, a bad mood, a weepy frame of mind. And we all have to carry on with our days regardless, no matter how much we want to just go home and keep the world on the other side of the front door. Add your regular work stress on top of that, and some days, you're going to have a real struggle on your hands just to get through. But there are five simple yet powerful ways you can take the reins from your emotions, assuming control even when they're doing their damndest to control you.
1. Take a breath.
When your temper starts to flare or you're embarrassed, upset or otherwise disturbed, your breathing becomes shallow and uneven. Keep taking those tiny breaths and you'll be ratcheting up those stress levels, too. Taking a deep breath is an immediate counter-agent to upset. It's also an opportunity to pause and think. Even this small space can make the difference between acting (constructive!) and reacting (um, potentially pretty destructive). That old "count to five before you speak" adage works for a reason. Words spoken in haste while feelings are running high rarely resolve a tense situation.
2. Take a lap.
Removing yourself from the situation gives everyone a moment to breathe. Whether you're in a stressful meeting or dealing with a break room confrontation, excuse yourself, go to the restroom, walk around the block or take a couple of flights of stairs. Make a point to give yourself space to breathe deep, vent, rant or cry a bit in privacy, so you can come back to the situation with a clearer mind. When emotions run high, the best way to move toward resolution is for everyone involved to have that bit of clarifying space. After all, this (probably) isn't a life or death issue. It's okay to wait a minute and let everyone calm down.
3. Take a step back from your emotions.
It's easy to get caught up in your feelings when that stressor is right there, in your face. Cultivating the ability to mentally take a step away is a killer way to counter that overwhelming "now, now, now!" sensation. Just like physically excusing yourself from the situation for a moment, being able to do so mentally helps you enter a space in which you can see things with less reactivity.
Being in this zone might help you realize that screaming customer has a point, albeit a loud one, or that your coworker isn't really out to get you. Being able to see and understand another person's motivation relieves you from taking whatever is happening so personally. If you struggle with this step, try taking a physical step back, and remind yourself to think about your perspective.
4. Take inventory of your triggers.
We all have things that make our tempers twitch or bring us down, or just put us in a weird and crusty mood. Like when you sleep through your alarm, and feel rushed the rest of the day. Or that guy starts humming under his breath two desks over. Again.
Tight deadlines, less than ideal work situations, unreasonable expectations from your boss...all of this and more can build up to a major headache, if not an eventual meltdown. Maintaining an awareness of what really pushes your buttons will help you spot that foul mood coming, as well as help you figure out how to dodge it.
Become an organizational guru to get you in under deadline, speak to your boss about her expectations and ask for reasonable accommodations to help you manage. And hey, why not keep earplugs at your desk to block out the humming? Applied the right way, mindfulness can be weaponized against mental disruption.
5. Take (self) care.
If you find yourself unreasonably upset at work, or your mood is out of whack more often than it isn't, check in with yourself. Are you eating right, are you getting enough sleep and are you taking care of your needs outside of work? If other things are going on in your life, saying something to a coworker or even your boss might help you find a way to ease the strain while you're at work.
Stressed out because of work? Speaking up is something to consider for sure. If there's something going on at the office that is putting you on edge most days of the week, it's time to address the situation.
The point here is to not only build your confrontation situation muscles but also your self awareness and compassion. Your emotions will feel much more regulated when you're on top of both your stress levels and your self-care.
One final thought.
Learning how to control your emotions at work will not only help keep you totally sane but also show the world you've got it together. When it comes time to hand out those promotions, management is going to choose you, the calm cool head, over the shouty woman or the pouting guy.
Beyond looking and acting professional, however, being able to regulate yourself is a life skill worth acquiring in general. No one likes confrontation, or having to deal with their day while also struggling through a crappy emotion. But you're going to have to do it anyway. So you might as well be a boss at it, right?
Heather Adams is a creative content & copy writer specializing in business storytelling.