How to Stop Being Overly Emotional at Work

5 min read
Source: ahmad gunnaivi/Unsplash

What you resist, persists.

Source: ahmad gunnaivi/Unsplash

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

Have you ever been so frustrated with matters at work that you exploded with anger at your kids at the end of an exhausting day?

Or perhaps you have become anxious or fearful, wondering why your boss or coworker hasn’t responded to one of your messages.

And there have probably been times when you found yourself so distracted by worry that you weren’t able to focus on your tasks.

If you can relate to the above, it goes to show how common it is to experience a range of different emotions, even within one day. And when you feel overwhelmed by your feelings, it’s easy to push them aside and keep working.

Trying to avoid your feelings is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater—at a certain point, the ball forces its way to the surface no matter how hard you try to keep it from springing up. As long as you can hold the ball underwater, the surface of the pool is smooth and serene, but with only one hand free, your actions and energy are restricted. And when you loosen your grip, the ball inevitably comes rocketing to the surface anyway, making a big mess.

Sensitive strivers (highly sensitive and high-performing individuals) tend to battle with unbalanced emotionality and spend an enormous amount of mental and emotional energy pretending that everything is OK while silently brooding and trying to process the intensity of their reactions. On the other end of the spectrum, letting your emotions run rampant can be similarly disruptive and exhausting.

How, then, do you find a balance between trying to ignore your emotions and letting them run the show? The answer is learning to accept your internal reactions and to manage them better.

What You Resist Persists

Just like the weather, emotional energy is always present, whether we like it or not. Emotions are important to identify, consider, and understand; however, they don’t necessarily need to be an overriding factor in your plans. When the weather is bad (or not to your liking), it doesn’t mean you deny it, focus all your attention on it, or cancel your plans because of it. What you do is accept the weather and adjust accordingly. So, although it may seem easier said than done, you can begin treating your emotional life like you treat the weather—by accepting and preparing for it.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to see your emotions as a constant part of your inner life and to navigate them as they arise. Willingly allowing, acknowledging, and absorbing your feelings helps you to:

1. Avoid depletion.

High-intensity emotions like anxiety, distress, and nervousness are mentally taxing because they activate the body’s fight-or-flight response. Emma Seppälä, author of The Happiness Track, notes that when sustained over long periods, high-intensity emotions can compromise your immune system, memory, and attention span. Even if you avoid them, high-intensity emotions don’t go away. Paradoxically, they amplify, which only drains you further. Experiencing your emotions as they are—annoying, maybe, but not permanent—is much less of an energetic drag than pushing them away.

2. Influence your reactions.

In the throes of avoidance, you feel helpless and emotionally hijacked, as if you’re spiraling out of control. When you accept your emotions, on the other hand, you have a chance to learn about your inner life and become more skilled at navigating it. You prove to yourself that you can handle your emotions flexibly, for example, by changing their intensity or duration and recovering more quickly.

3. Heed their message.

Emotions are a source of sensory intelligence and insight that give you important information about your needs or actions you can take to respond more authentically. Even so-called bad or negative emotions have a function. For instance, fear is one way to keep yourself safe and protected, and guilt signals the need to make amends. When you start thinking of your emotions as messengers, your relationship with them changes.

4. Strengthen your emotional energy balance.

Acceptance is different from passive resignation in that it involves dropping the struggle with your emotions without giving up on yourself. Ironically, accepting your emotions can boost your psychological health, contributing to fewer mood swings and higher overall life satisfaction. Most importantly, acceptance paves the way for you to leverage the upsides of your emotionality rather than seeing it as something to be overcome.

Find Your Center

No matter how intense the feeling, you can take charge of your emotional reactions before they take charge of you. Since all emotions start as energy in the body, calming your physiology is the quickest, surest way to become more present and in command of your experiences and yourself. Once you’re centered, you can make sense of your responses and hear the messages your emotions are trying to send you.

One simple way to get back to center is with a mindfulness technique called grounding. Grounding activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and recovery. When your parasympathetic nervous system switches on, your heart rate slows, and blood flows to your prefrontal cortex, which improves your decision-making and concentration. Grounding directly impacts nerves in your brain’s arousal center and signals to your mind and body that it’s safe to settle down. There are dozens of different grounding exercises you can try, everything from deep breathing and progressive relaxation to visualization. Most are inconspicuous, meaning you can do them on a call, at your desk, or even while driving.

Instead of finding yourself drained by high-intensity negative feelings, you can process and sort through your feelings in an evenhanded way. Once you’re in a calmer, more composed state physically, you’re in a better position to figure out how you want to move ahead.

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