Many years ago, I went through a break-up. We’d been together 6 years. Longer than some of the married couples we knew. Without going into detail, I can say it was an emotional time. And I will readily confess – I didn’t cope with it very well. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. I found it really hard to focus and motivate myself at work. I cancelled and postponed meetings. I remember one day, it all got the better of me and I had to go and cry in the ladies bathroom. When I was at home I was numb. Spending most of my time sitting on the sofa in front of the TV. Like a zombie. Pushing down my emotions in case I cried again.
The impact this had on my work performance was clear. My figures were down. I was so exhausted that I was seeing everyone and everything at work as ‘exhausting’. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. And when I did speak to them I was either completely disengaged or snapping at them. Frustrated they were bothering me with their problems when I was struggling to cope with my own. My colleagues and clients were understandably beginning to doubt my capabilities and were losing trust in me. Frankly, though, I didn’t care. (I’d already made the decision I was leaving recruitment.) Which, of course, then resulted in even poorer performance.
It was impacting my work and life so badly, I sought help. Working with a coach, I realised it wasn’t just about the break-up. There were underlying fears present, stemming from past experiences, impacting my behaviour in the present. Once I understood more about what my emotions were, and where they were coming from, I learnt how to deal with them better.
Our emotions absolutely determine the outcomes and results we get in life. Meaning they absolutely determine how successful we are. How we feel affects our behaviour – how we act. React. What decisions we make. What actions we take. Actions and decisions which may or may not impact others. Positive feelings will lead to good decisions and reactions – or more accurately, healthy responses. Negative feelings are more likely to result in detrimental decisions and knee-jerk reactions. Maybe even childish ones.
If you want to experience maximum success and happiness in work and life – learning how to manage your emotions is crucial. It is the foundation to everything. If you want to be considered for a promotion or leadership role, high emotional intelligence is key. Without it you can kiss your career dreams goodbye. Success, at work or outside, is determined by the quality and strength of your relationships. And if you don’t have control of your emotions – people will quickly decide you are not someone they want to have a relationship with. Personal or professional.
If you’re having problems managing your emotions or reactions at work. Or you’re experiencing something traumatic or stressful outside of work and you’re finding it hard to leave your emotions at the door. Fear not – you’re not alone. Most people go through something similar at some point. Here are some quick tips to help you get on top of your emotions so you can experience even greater success in work – and life:
Emotions: Stress & Anger
Ok. So let’s be honest with ourselves. Stress is just a professional term for fear. So before you do anything – be brave enough to admit to yourself you’re not stressed. You’re scared.
And if you’re angry. Newsflash. Anger is a secondary emotion. It is a product of the primary emotion fear. If you’re angry at your team for not hitting a deadline, it’s because you’re scared it will reflect badly on you. If you’re angry someone disrespected you at work, it’s because they have threatened your boundaries, and your significance, and out of fear you are defending yourself. Like animals in the wild, when we are attacked, we defend. (Or retreat.) Someone with anger management issues often believes everyone is always against them, and is constantly in a state of self-defence i.e. anger. Really fear.
You have to identify what you’re really scared of. Are you scared you might lose something? Your job? People’s respect or admiration? Money? Security? Love? Your reputation?
Are you scared of the potential outcome? Are you afraid of failing? Getting shouted at by your boss? Being humiliated in front of colleagues or loved ones? Being alone? Being hurt? Are you scared of success and what success could bring e.g. less time with the kids?
Or are you scared of the pain process? The hard work required to achieve your outcome? Being put in the spotlight for everyone to see you fail? The pain of going through a break-up or divorce?
Write down all the thoughts in your head that are causing you to feel stressed or angry. This will help you make sense of your fear and give you a concrete list of what you need to work on, instead of just some abstract feeling.
Identify where these feelings are really coming from? Is it possible that some of your thoughts, fears and emotional reactions are coming from past experiences? Without wanting to sound like a therapist – is it possible that your younger, maybe teenage, self is still driving your reactions today? Most emotional reactions come from previous experience. What experiences have you had which have caused you to act / react the way you do now?
Here you have two choices. Either you go and get some professional help in dealing with your past experiences. Or you make a decision, starting today, that your teenage self has been moved to the passenger seat. Your adult self is now taking the steering wheel to drive and plan your life moving forward. You make a decision to let go of past grievances and resentments – and forgive yourself for choosing to believe what others told you instead of being true to yourself.
Ask yourself – how would an emotional healthy adult respond in this situation? And what do I need to change, within myself, for me to behave that way?
Be realistic. When it comes to fear we have to look at perceived threat vs reality. Look at each item on your list and ask yourself, “How realistic is that? How do I know that will DEFINITELY happen? Is that a real danger or is it just in my head?”
To help you rationalise your fears, answer the following:
- What’s REALLY the worst thing that could happen?
- What can you do or put in place to lower the risk of that happening?
- If the worst did happen, what can you do to minimize the impact?
- What information, skills, experience, knowledge, tools could make this less risky?
And remember: there is no such thing as failure. Perceive every challenge or setback as a great opportunity to learn, and ‘failure’ disappears.
Make friends with your fear. Appreciate it is only trying to protect you. From the unknown. Even though it doesn’t feel good, it has your best intentions at heart. Give your fear a name. Mine is called Bob. So now, when I’m scared, I say, “Thank you for trying to protect me Bob. It’s good to know somebody’s looking out for me. I think I’ll be OK this time. Thanks Bob.”
Emotion: Bereavement / Loss / Depression
Bereavement is possibly the hardest emotion to manage. Experiencing the excruciating pain of losing someone close, on top of the roller-coaster of emotions that follows, can be extremely challenging. Processing that one minute someone is there and the next they are gone is almost too much for the human brain to compute. Often resulting in shock and denial. Then you have anger at the unfairness of it all. Stress, worrying about how you’re going to cope without that person. Sadness and depression at the loss of that person’s presence in your life. It’s a similar process for anyone going through a break-up or job loss. Or any kind of loss. Depression is a result of unmet expectation. The loss of the life we think we should have had, versus the one we’ve ended up with.
Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge what you are going through is normal and it’s OK to feel the way you do. Although the emotions are painful, allow yourself to feel them. Resisting them will only cause problems further on down the line.
There are plenty of books and online resources that can help.
If you are experiencing loss at work, communicate the situation with your manager and employer. Most companies have compassionate leave policies and some offer access to grief counsellors. Take advantage of them. Grief is hard to process and support is crucial. Once you return to work, it’s important you schedule time each day to sit down and continue to process your emotions. Block 30 minutes or an hour a day – before or after work – and make it a priority.
If you don’t qualify for compassionate leave, and are struggling to manage your loss – book a day off work to cry it out. Or a couple of days. Seek the help of friends or a professional if you need to.
Ultimately, however, the goal is to learn how to manage your emotions while still getting on with life. The only way you can do this is to do your best to park your emotions while you are at work – but absolutely blocking out time to deal with them outside of work. This is essential. Knowing you are giving yourself the time to ‘feel’ at some point in the day is really powerful. This is how I eventually got through my break-up.
And if you’re depressed – they only way to get out of your depression is to let go of the life you feel you’ve lost. Accept, right now, your life is what it is. Let go of what you think your life ‘should’ look like and focus on what you want it to look like. Then put an action plan in place that will help you get from where you are now to where you want to be.
Processing our emotions, all emotions, is a three stage process. First we have to allow ourselves to feel them. Then we evaluate – what does this emotion mean? What is it trying to tell me? What do I need to learn about myself in order for me to let go of this emotion? What fears do I need to let go of? What can I learn from this experience to ensure I take positive action in the future? How can I perceive this situation differently so I can feel differently about it?
Then it’s a case of acceptance. We can’t change the past. It’s already happened. All we can do is learn what we can from the experience and move on. Applying those lessons to future scenarios as they arise.
Remember – you’re a human being, not a robot. We ALL experience emotions. The only difference is some people have learnt how to process them faster. Meaning they can bounce back more quickly. Seek to understand your emotions better and you’ll learn how to manage them better.
If you would like to share your experiences or offer advice on how to deal with emotions, please feel free to comment below.
To find out more about emotional management, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ww.zetayarwood.com
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About the Author
Zeta Yarwood is recognised as a leading Career Coach and NLP Life Coach in Dubai, helping individuals across the world to achieve success in all areas of their lives. With a degree in Psychology and over 10 years’ experience in coaching, management and recruitment – working for multinational companies and award-winning recruitment firms – Zeta is an expert in unlocking human potential. Passionate about helping people discover their strengths, talents and motivation, Zeta lives to inspire others to dream big and create the life and career they really want.