Have you ever found yourself in a situation where something has happened at work that leaves you feeling absolutely enraged?
You might not share that rage with those around you. But deep down inside, you’re boiling.
We hear lots of talk about how important it is to control our emotions.
But trying to control our emotions inevitably backfires.
Emotions are part of the human experience and are meant to be felt. Trying to control our emotions is the same as trying to hold a lid down on a boiling pot. No matter what you do, it’s bound to overflow.
Instead of looking at how we can control our emotions, we need to be looking at strategies that can help us manage our reactions to those emotions.
The more we try to control our emotions, the more we end up reacting to them. They take control over us.
One team I worked with a while back was really struggling with dealing with conflict. Emotions would escalate and so would outward behaviours. The team members’ reactions had become pretty intense. You know, the kind that you don’t even expect to have to deal with in the workplace (or maybe you’re just all too used to it…?).
People left encounters time and time again feeling hurt and angry. The resentment compounded after each incident.
When our emotions become pretty intense, they can become overwhelming to us. We can do and say things that we sometimes regret. Things that aren’t in line with how we want to be showing up in the world.
The key isn’t so much in learning to not experience intense emotions. Emotions are the clues that let us know when something just doesn’t feel quite right to us. When we develop skills that enable us to interrupt the intense behavioural reactions that can sometimes flow immediately from the emotions we’re experiencing, we’re able to address situations much more effectively.
Instead of everyone blowing up at one another (or showing their anger through passive-aggressive actions), learning to manage how we react to our emotions opens the door to conversations that will allow us to truly explore and resolve the problem at hand.
Here are 3 tips to help you get there:
1. Work on recognizing the early body cues that help you to identify the emotions you’re experiencing.
We often only notice the emotions we’re experiencing once they’ve reached a certain threshold level of intensity. We’re so busy going about our lives, juggling a multitude of tasks, that we’ve become disconnected from our in-the-moment sense of body awareness.
Or sometimes, we notice the emotions come up, but ignore them. You may not be in a situation where it feels safe to process them in the moment and it then gets forgotten later on. Or you may have simply internalized the message that you’re “too sensitive” and tell yourself that your feelings aren’t justified.
2. Start noticing which type of strategies help to calm you during moments of intense emotions.
Once we’re more skilled at noticing emotions as they come up, the next step is learning to pause for a moment and do something that will help to manage and better tolerate these emotions.
This is different than distracting yourself from your emotions. For instance, although scrolling through your phone may take your mind off a difficult situation, this behaviour distracts us from what we’re feeling. And although distraction is a useful tool when we’re experiencing something that is much more intense than we can handle in the moment, integrating calming strategies when you are able will drastically improve your ability to navigate challenging situations.
In order to identify which calming strategies will work best for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- What types of activities leave me feeling more relaxed and recharged?
- Which activities help me to step back from the intensity of what I’m experiencing and allow me to look at the situation more objectively?
- Which can I most realistically incorporate regularly into my daily routine?
This may be anything from talking to an empathetic friend or colleague, spending some time alone, getting outside for some fresh air, exercising, meditating or deep breathing, listening to some calming music, drawing or painting, playing music, etc.
Find what works best for you. Then start becoming intentional about using these strategies.
3. Determine whether or not the situation is within your control.
Last year, I was at the airport and there was an announcement that our flight would be significantly delayed. It was fascinating to observe the different responses in the small waiting room. We were in a remote northern community with only one company and flight leaving from the entire airport. There was literally no option to switch to a different flight. Nor was it realistic to arrive any earlier by driving instead.
I think it’s fair to say that everyone experienced disappointment and frustration at the announcement, albeit perhaps to different degrees. Some adapted relatively quickly to the news and others fought extensively with the ticketing agents and complained repetitively amongst themselves for the majority of our time at the airport.
The thing is that regardless of how people responded, we all arrived in Montreal at the exact same time. Some simply experienced significantly more stress than others.
It’s human nature to sometimes get caught up in these negative feedback loops. It happens to me. I’m human too. Whether or not I do really depends on how many other stressors I’ve been dealing with, how connected I’ve been to my own mindfulness practice and whether or not I’m able to recognize my reactivity in the moment to step out of the pattern.
If you’re in a situation where there is something that can be changed, by all means, go ahead and take the necessary steps to effect that change. But being able to recognize the difference is a game-changer.
If you find yourself caught in a negative feedback loop in a situation where you cannot change the outcome, go back to the step above and implement some calming strategies. It will help you to see the situation with a clearer head and will help to minimize some of the reactions that tend to exacerbate our intense emotions and lead us to further turmoil.
Learning to manage our reactions to our emotions is often a lifelong journey. It’s a journey that we can each embark upon, one step at a time, regardless of where we are in the process. The journey can often be cyclical and feel like that whole notion of “two steps forward, one step back”.
This doesn’t mean that you’re failing at it. It means that you’re human. Behavioural change takes time, practice and dedication. If you find yourself struggling, know that you can pick yourself back up and rededicate yourself to the practice whenever the time feels right to you. And if you find yourself needing a bit of extra help, you can reach out and book a complimentary 30 minute discover call at any time.
In the meantime, best wishes and keep at it. I know that it’s brought more peace and reward to my own life than I could have ever imagined.
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