Manage your emotions at work Here’s how mentally strong people do it
A father came into my therapy office with his son and told me: “He’s so strong. He hasn’t even cried once since his grandmother passed away.”
Like many people, this father had bought into misconceptions about mental strength. He thought being strong was the same thing as acting tough.
Being mentally strong isn’t about stifling your emotions and ignoring your pain. After all, it takes strength to allow yourself to feel sad, anxious and scared.
You don’t want to stay stuck in a place of pain, however. It’s important to be able to shift your emotions when they aren’t serving you well. Here are five ways mentally strong people manage their emotions at work:
1. They schedule time to worry
Whether you’re a natural worrier who’s concerned about everything or there’s something specific that you can’t seem to get off your mind, all of those “what if...” questions can consume your mental energy. What if something goes wrong? What if I end up broke?
One of the best ways to manage your anxious thoughts is to schedule time to worry. It sounds absurd, but studies show it actually works.
Set aside 20 minutes a day to worry and put it in your schedule. Then, when your worrying time rolls around, worry up a storm. When your time is over, go back to doing something else.
The goal is to contain your worrying to a specific portion of the day, so it isn’t all-consuming and doesn’t distract you from your job. With practice, you’ll be able to spend your day focusing on the task right in front of you, rather than ruminate about what happened yesterday or worry about what might happen tomorrow.
2. They label their emotions
Your emotions affect how you perceive events and how you decide to take action. When you’re anxious about something, even something completely unrelated to your current work task, you’ll likely avoid risks.
When you’re sad, you’re more likely to agree to a bad deal (never negotiate when you’re sad).
When you’re excited, you’ll overlook the challenges you’re likely to face.
Despite the major influence of emotions, most people spend very little time thinking about their feelings. In fact, most adults struggle to name their feelings.
But labeling your feelings is key to making the best decisions. When you understand how you’re feeling and how those feelings might cloud your judgment, you can make better choices.
3. They determine whether their feelings are a friend or an enemy
Emotions aren’t either positive or negative. All emotions can be helpful at times and harmful at others.
Sadness is helpful when it reminds you to honor something or someone you lost. But it can be harmful if it keeps you from getting out of bed and tackling your day.
Anger is helpful when it gives you energy to take a stand for a cause you believe in. It can be harmful if it encourages you to do or say things that hurt co-workers.
So after you label your feelings, take a minute to identify whether that emotion is a friend or an enemy to you right now. If it’s helpful, allow yourself to embrace that feeling fully. If not, change how you feel by either changing the way you think (or what you’re thinking about) or how you’re behaving.
4. They engage in mood boosters
Behaving contrary to the way you feel can shift your emotional state. For example, smiling can evoke feelings of happiness when you’re feeling down. Or taking a few slow deep breaths can calm you when you’re feeling anxious.
It’s important to have a few activities in mind for boosting your mood on a bad day. The easiest way to do that is by creating a list of things you enjoy doing when you’re in a good mood, like going for a walk, listening to upbeat music or having coffee with a co-worker you find pleasant.
Then, when you’re in a bad mood (and your emotions aren’t your friend), engage in a mood booster. Changing your behavior can shift your internal state and help you to feel happier.
5. They embrace discomfort
Ask yourself, “What emotion is most uncomfortable?” For one person, it might be embarrassment. For another, it might be anxiety.
You likely go to great lengths to avoid the emotion you find least tolerable. Perhaps you don’t try for a promotion because you think you can’t handle rejection. Or maybe you pass up an invitation to give a speech at a conference because you loathe public speaking.
Many people go through life working really hard to avoid discomfort. Ironically, however, they end up feeling uncomfortable almost all the time because they’re wasting all their energy running away from things that may cause discomfort.
Embrace a little bit of discomfort. If you expose yourself to uncomfortable feelings (as long as you do it in a healthy way), you can gain confidence in your ability to tolerate distress.
In addition to creating healthy habits that will build mental muscle, it’s important to give up the bad habits that are robbing you of the mental strength you need to be your best.