Cumulative stress can increase our vulnerability to emotional outbursts and breakdowns. Not only will displays of strong emotions at work have long term consequences on our image at work, the lack of competency in managing emotions well can also trigger more stress for us. How can we keep our emotions in check and learn to control them better, especially at the workplace? Susan Krauss Whitbourne from Psychologytoday.com writes about 5 ways we can manage disappointment, anger and resentment better:
Emotions are a vital part of our everyday lives. Whether you’re having a good laugh over a text message or feeling frustrated in rush hour traffic, you know that the highs and lows you experience can significantly affect your well-being.
Your ability to regulate those emotions, in turn, affects how you’re perceived by the people around you. If you’re laughing at that text during a serious meeting, you’re likely to get resentful looks from others in the room. On the other hand, if you react with rage at a driver who cuts you off in traffic, you can engender unwanted attention, and perhaps even risk your life.
Fortunately, you can handle most of the work involved in regulating your emotions well before the provoking situation even occurs. By preparing yourself ahead of time, you’ll find that the problematic emotion goes away before it interferes with your life:
1. Select the situation
Avoid circumstances that trigger unwanted emotions. If you know that you’re most likely to get angry when you’re in a hurry (and you become angry when others force you to wait), then don’t leave things for the last minute. Get out of the house or office 10 minutes before you need to, and you won’t be bothered so much by pedestrians, cars, or slow elevators. Similarly, if there’s an acquaintance you find completely annoying, then figure out a way to keep from bumping into that person.
2. Modify the situation
Perhaps the emotion you’re trying to reduce is disappointment. You’re always hoping, for example, to serve the “perfect” meal for friends and family, but invariably something goes wrong because you’ve aimed too high. Modify the situation by finding recipes that are within your range of ability so that you can pull off the meal. You may not be able to construct the ideal soufflé, but you manage a pretty good frittata.
3. Shift your attentional focus
Let’s say that you constantly feel inferior to the people around you who always look great. You’re at the gym, and can’t help but notice the regulars on the weight machines who manage to lift three times as much as you can. Drawn to them like a magnet, you can’t help but watch with wonder and envy at what they’re able to accomplish. Shifting your focus away from them and onto your fellow gym rats who pack less punch will help you feel more confident about your own abilities. Even better, focus on what you’re doing, and in the process, you’ll eventually gain some of the strength you desire.
4. Change your thoughts
At the core of our deepest emotions are the beliefs that drive them. You feel sad when you believe to have lost something, anger when you decide that an important goal is thwarted, and happy anticipation when you believe something good is coming your way. By changing your thoughts you may not be able to change the situation but you can at least change the way you believe the situation is affecting you. In cognitive reappraisal, you replace the thoughts that lead to unhappiness with thoughts that lead instead to joy or at least contentment. People with social anxiety disorder may believe that they’ll make fools of themselves in front of others for their social gaffes. They can be helped to relax by interventions that help them recognize that people don’t judge them as harshly as they believe.
5. Change your response
If all else fails, and you can’t avoid, modify, shift your focus, or change your thoughts, and that emotion comes pouring out, the final step in emotion regulation is to get control of your response. Your heart may be beating out a steady drumroll of unpleasant sensations when you’re made to be anxious or angry. Take deep breaths and perhaps close your eyes in order to calm yourself down. Similarly, if you can’t stop laughing when everyone else seems serious or sad, gather your inner resources and force yourself at least to change your facial expression if not your mood.