For most of us, 5 days out of 7 are spent in an office, working.
Whether or not you love your job right now, you probably still want to do well at it. Your emotions have the power to completely mess this up.
When you go through something painful or stressful, but not destructive enough to warrant compassionate leave, you have to focus every day on something you don’t care about that much. And without doubt, when stressed or upset, the things we give a f*ck about narrow right down. Say you’re going through a bad breakup, all of a sudden increasing sales efficiency seems utterly unimportant.
It is important though. Doing well at work gives you not just the technical perks, like financial rewards. It gives you a sense of purpose. A sense of achievement and power. In a time where you feel the opposite of powerful in your personal life, work can remind you, you are.
But how do you create that separation from negative emotions and maintain composure when you feel like cr*p?
The first step is being self-aware. Whilst avoidance of an issue can sometimes help dodge it temporarily, if you’re going through something significant which will take more than a few days to pass, you can’t pretend. You need to accept you are stressed and find ways to deal with it.
There are daily things that will help. Exercise is a common strategy, and starting your day with it allows a moment in your calendar where the biggest challenge is the next rep or step. Having to focus on the physical gives your mind a rest. It’s also a very clarifying process, your perspective will change influenced by the chemical changes exercise gives you. Starting the day this way means you can go into work in that headspace, rather than an anxious one.
If exercise ain’t your thing, seeking a moment of calm before the day starts is still a good idea. Other ways to do this might be sitting and having a coffee alone, reading, trying some breath/meditation work, or listening to a podcast.
Throughout the day, the objective is survival. Get through it.
Workplace culture varies greatly. I’ve often worked in very creative environments and therefore have had relatively informal relationships with colleagues. Sex, drugs and anything in between not off the table for general chit chat. The battle then, when going through something personal, is deciding how much to reveal. On the one hand, people will cut you more slack if they understand what you’re going through. On the other though, people knowing affects your ability to compartmentalise. In addition, in a bid to be supportive, you’re more likely to have people asking how you are all the time.
My suggestion: tell one person everything and tell everyone else nothing.
Your confident shouldn’t be someone you report into. They should either be a close friend at work, or possibly a mentor or career support. Many companies will have associated support networks. If you have health insurance, that firm may offer counselling support as part of the package. ‘Counselling’ may sound dramatic and unnecessary but it doesn’t need to be a big deal. Everyone needs people to talk to, to process emotions and sometimes the distance of a professional can liberate you to open up.
There’s a mental coping mechanism that isn’t spoken about often but is something I’ve personally found very useful. And that is acceptance.
Accepting that you are in pain and you will have to live through it and one day, you will be out the other side. In ‘The Fountainhead’, the novel’s heroine, Dominique Francon, chooses pain. She accepts pain in her life because to her it is more manageable than the anxiety she would have to live with by making different choices. There is courage and calm in this mindset.
Scheduling smart, is another coping strategy. When do you feel worse; morning, or afternoon? The beginning of the week or the end? Where possible, you can be savvy around planning your calendar in line with your emotional triggers. At a point when you’re likely to feel low, you may be better packing that time with meetings. Why? The distraction. Our brains aren’t conscious multi-taskers and a meeting can force you to be present in a way that independent work can’t. Alternatively, something laborious but not mentally taxing may be a good use of your time. A task which you can execute like a robot, which is how you feel sometimes when it’s all a bit rubbish.
And then there’s crying. The process of crying isn’t purely a way to express yourself; it’s actually one way to get rid of toxins. The chemical manganese is stored up by stress and released from your body through crying. It’s definitely not helpful for your mental wellbeing to be afraid of this. Afraid of showing emotions. However you don’t want to be doing it at your desk. When the pain passes, you’ll probably regret it.
Emergency walks are an option. Another one is the ‘forced cry’. ‘Huh?!’ I’m talking about a time when you’re safe and alone, focusing on crying. This will give you a release. People use this moment of forced focus in different ways, It is one coping strategy for grief, to allow a time slot everyday to think everything associated with that loss and really feel it all. Then, when the time is up, so is your dwell time on the grief, until tomorrow.
When it comes to tears, a strange thing can happen when you will them to come. Eventually, they don’t. At some point you literally have ‘no tears left to cry’ (thanks Ariana).
Hopefully, when that time comes and the riptide has ceased, your reputation at work will remain unscathed and life goes on.