Managing your emotions

Budget cuts, lay-offs, organisation changes and takeovers, a new boss, an annoying work colleague–they’re all recipes for feeling just a tad emotional and stressed. And the way you respond–not react–can harm or enhance your standing in the eyes of your colleagues.

Reacting is automatic and reflexive. It’s a sign your ‘reptilian brain’ is in control. With your reptilian brain in charge, you say something or do something reflexively, without thought, which generally puts you at a disadvantage. You can end up looking defensive and emotional and embarrassing yourself and others.

When you respond, you’ve given a bit of rational thought to what you do or say. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel annoyed, nervous or upset, but it does mean you’ve thought about how to deal with your feelings and chosen whether, and how much, to put your emotions out there for everyone to see.

It takes only seconds to respond rather that react. When we’re feeling an emotion, we tend to shallow breathe, which puts us in the flight-fight-freeze mode of our reptilian brain; great when your life is on the line but not so great at work. Keep breathing to give your brain some oxygen and give your ‘thinking brain’, the neocortex, a chance to take over.

Say, for example, you’re feeling frustrated because you’ve been on hold for the usual ridiculous and insulting amount of time, or your boss hasn’t acknowledged a particularly great job you’ve done. Before saying or doing anything, take a deep breath. Stop and think about why you’re feeling frustrated and how you could think about the situation differently. Maybe being on hold gives you a chance to look out the window and give your eyes a rest. Maybe when your boss doesn’t compliment you on a great job it’s because she expects nothing less than the best from you because you’re a star.  Now you can decide what, if anything, you want to do.

Or say you’re feeling angry. At the very first sign of anger, stop what you’re doing and breathe. Then maybe go and grab a glass of water and drink it. The key is to interrupt the anger and give yourself some thinking space so you can work out your most effective response.

And here is the good news: Managing your emotions is like exercising your willpower–the more you do it, the easier it becomes.