Have you ever had an issue with managing strong emotions in the workplace and/or at home?
Recently I was leading a two-day, hybrid retreat for a UN agency and the subject of managing strong emotions in the workplace came up. It often does in workshops that I teach. We talked about a number of scenarios and I shared some simple tips to help dial down the emotions in the moment.
Can you relate to any of the following:
- Having difficulty listening when a supervisor or team member is giving you hard to hear feedback
- Wanting to be supportive of a colleague who is drowning in emotions but pulling back because you were flooded with emotions yourself
- Feeling on edge, and exhausted so your emotional overwhelm is a mere misstep away
- Getting really angry over a work situation and not being able to calm down
- Letting it rip and regretting your emotional outburst later
- Being super nervous and feeling helpless when facilitating a meeting or workshop and your warbly voice and shaking hands gives your nerves away
Not to worry. You are not alone.
First, some background before I get into ten simple tips for handling strong emotions. (I’ll share five in this post and five in an upcoming post.)
Strong emotions are a signal. They’re a strong signal that something is wrong. That may seem obvious but we can get blindsided by the emotion and ignore the message it’s trying to tell us.
For example, a strong emotional reaction could mean any of the following:
- A boundary has been crossed
- One of your values was trampled on
- A fear has been raised (fearful of not seeming competent in front of your peers for example)
Emotions are powerful, no doubt, but so are the messages they’re trying to convey.
While I’ll share some really easy tips and tricks for managing strong emotions, know they are to be used in the moment, to help you calm down.
The tips don’t take the place of understanding why the emotion was raised in the first place and whether more help is needed, such as coaching, counseling, etc.
Now that we’re on the page, let’s get to the tips.
I’m sharing ten super simple tips for managing those strong emotions, so you can get on with business and your life.
The first five are below. Watch for the next five in an upcoming post.
1. Breathe out longer than you breathe in
- I’ve lost count how many times I’ve used this technique. It’s one of the easiest tips and one you can use anywhere.
- It’s simple – just breathe out longer than you breathe in. The bigger the difference between the in-breath and the out breath the better.
- You’ll feel the effects pretty much instantly.
- Sometimes we get so lost in strong emotions that we even lose a sense of our bodies.
- If that’s you, simply cross your arms and very gently push and pull on your elbows.
- This is a great tip because it can be done very surreptitiously – no one has to know what you’re doing.
- The gentle pressure will help you refocus and ‘come back’ to your body. Source: Marsha Shandur
3. Wonder woman / starfish
- This is a potent tip but one you’ll want to do on your own, for fear of looking a bit loopy otherwise.
- Simply stand with your legs slightly wider than normal and with your arms raised in the air (so your body forms an X or starfish shape) or put your hands on your hips (aka wonder woman).
- Hold that position for 60 seconds.
- Watch your stress level go down.
- Holding this position will make your cortisol level, a stress hormone, decrease and your testosterone level increase. Make way for feeling calm and competent!
- Note: of course adapt this exercise as your physical abilities dictate.
4. Remove yourself
- Step away. Walk away. Get outta there.
- If you’re able, remove yourself from the scene of the stress and strong emotions.
- A change (of scenery) is as good as a rest.
- This is another one that will feel decidedly odd but I promise it works almost instantly.
- We like to feel that we are intelligent beings but when it comes to strong feelings, our emotions can easily outwit us. But we can ‘fight’ back.
- If you force yourself to smile (remember this technique is meant to be used in the moment, it’s not for long term stress) your brain will have a little moment. Said brain will notice that you’re smiling and will tell itself, “Okay then, Lee-Anne is smiling so she must be happy” et voila, your brain will release hormones to help you calm down and feel better.
- I know! Super weird right?! But trust me, as I’ve used this technique a lot, and while it feels weird it really does work.
- This included when I was in the hospital with a loved one who got some bad news. When it was appropriate, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and with tears pouring down my face …. I smiled. It really, truly helped me calm down so I could be supportive to my loved one.
There you have it. Five tips to help you regain control of yourself and your sanity. Which ones resonated best? Which ones do you want to practice? Stay tuned for the next five in an upcoming post.
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead
- Which ones resonated best? Which ones do you want to practice? Take a moment to make a plan for your next emotional upheaval.
- Strong emotions can make us ‘dance’ to all sorts of hidden messages. Check out this highly choreographed courtship bird dance as a funny example.
- Share the post with a friend and/or colleague and see if they have any tips to add to the list.
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