The workplace can make a person feel the full range of emotions, sometimes more intensely and frequently than one experiences at home. The difference is that people are often reluctant to show or even acknowledge to themselves their true emotions while on the job. For too many folks, emotions are like the black box in an airplane: They are examined only when there has been a crash.
Burying emotions, however, can cause big problems both professionally and personally. After all, emotions exist specifically to be part of a person’s survival kit. But in the workplace, emotions get ignored due to outdated assumptions, such as being a sign of weakness.
The idea that one can bury their emotions and still function well is a myth. What’s more, recent research has shown that when you can identify an emotion, you are able to slow your reactions to it and act wisely for work purposes and in a more healthy way for yourself. In short: You can name it, tame it, and then can take the right action to shift that feeling at that moment.
I’d suggest using a journal to evaluate the following common emotions experienced at work, which helps you to then redirect them in positive ways:
- Anger. Acknowledge and get to know your anger. When ignored, anger turns to momentary rage and lasting resentment, shuts down your ability to be happy, and even causes ailments like heart disease. Anger alerts you to set boundaries and facilitate change. So ask yourself these questions: Who or what flips my anger switch on? What happens as a result of my experiencing anger? How does it affect other people and interfere with my goals?
- Anxiety. Anxiety arises from thoughts and can catch you in an endless thought loop. “Did I sign off on that contract? Did I forget something?” Anxiety can also serve as a messenger to help you clarify a situation, so that you can take action. Use your phone to create lists or download one of the many apps that can help you stay organized and able to focus on other things. Consider these questions: Who or what flips your anxiety switch on? How does anxiety interfere with your goals? What would you like to experience instead?
- Sadness. This emotion often brings a desire to withdraw and the need to cry. It’s a cue that you need time to reflect and let go of things that are not working. Sadness gives you a window into what you value, and when you acknowledge your own sadness, you increase the ability to demonstrate empathy. You develop the courage and ability to do other difficult things.
- Discouragement. When left unchecked, discouragement can erode confidence, momentum, and motivation. To go from discouraged to determined, reframe it by identifying three things that are going well for you. Recognize that the discouragement is not a permanent thing. Find a safe person to talk to, then let go of discouragement and reiterate your bigger vision.
Chronic, unmanaged stress is most often caused by an unwillingness to confront these emotions. It not only interrupts the ability to think clearly and work well with others, it chips away at your health. Taking a moment to identify your emotions during a difficult time leads you to having more control over them.
Cynthia Howard, RN, is an executive coach, performance expert, and the author of The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room. She has coached thousands of professionals and leaders on emotional agility and engaged leadership.