How to Handle Your Emotions at Work

Today I watched an episode of “Afterlife,” Ricky Gervais’ new hit comedy about a depressed guy trying to sort out his life after the death of his wife.

I found it too dark for me, and pretty coarse, but it did make me think through the day about the fact that everyone.  Everyone.  Is fighting a battle somewhere.  We all have areas of sadness, hurt, pain and challenge.  To hurt is to be human.

But how do you handle those emotions in the workplace?  Long ago I made a commitment to myself to only ‘lift’ clients; never to bring them down.  If you’ve worked with me, you’ve never seen me have a bad day.  Actually you have, I just made sure I didn’t make it into your problem.

When you’re in pain, it’s not fair to make your co-workers suffer as well.  It’s fine to be honest and authentic, but you come to work to contribute, and it’s important that you don’t drag everyone around you down for extended periods of time.

Let me share some things I’ve learned about handling negative emotions when you’re going through something hard, and you still have to show up at work:

  1. Be careful what you focus on
    Whatever you choose to focus your mind on becomes your reality.  If you choose to focus on your broken relationship, it overwhelms you.  If you choose to focus on hope for the future, you begin to believe that.   Put better things into your mind.  Read hopeful things.  Listen to podcasts that inspire you.  Talk with positive people.
  2. Act your way into the feeling
    Malcom Gladwell writes about two psychologists who recorded every facial emotion expressed by humans; about 3000 of them.  They took pictures of each other’s faces demonstrating how each emotion looked.  They found that on days where they were showing the emotions of joy, delight, and happiness, they went home delighted.  When they spent the day showing emotions of sadness, grief, and anxiety, they felt terrible at the end of the day.  Same goes for you.Act like you’re happy even when you feel terrible.  Do what happy people do.  Pretend you’re one of them.  Fake it til you make it.  You’ll notice a difference.
  3. Do something active
    Whenever you feel awful, you’re sitting or slouching or dragging your heels or laying down.  It’s hard to feel as terrible when you’re walking briskly or swimming or playing a sport.  Do something active and you’ll feel better.
  4. Focus on the future
    Life is like a trip on a sailboat.  Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it’s stormy, and occasionally you hit a hurricane.  When you’re in a hurricane, sometimes all you can do is hold on and survive.  But even hurricanes end.  And squalls and storms and rainy days are just part of life.Remind yourself that there are better days coming, and put some energy each day into making them a reality.
  5. Be grateful for what you have
    Grateful people are happy people.  Ungrateful people can only be unhappy; in their minds they’ve been unjustly used.  We’ve all been treated badly, and we all have amazing blessings in our lives.  Make a list of yours and be thankful for what you have at the moment.Your happiness depends on you, not on another person.

I live in a town where all sorts of bad things happen.  Like yours.  Traffic is bad sometimes, there’s vandalism on bus stands, and some buildings are in various states of ruin.  I can focus on that, or I can raise my eyes a few degrees and focus on the majestic Mt. Baker that looks down on our town.  It’s my choice what I focus on.

I empathize with you in your pain, and also want to see you move to a brighter future,

Your attitude is a servant of your will, not a victim of your circumstance.

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