Murphy is flaunting his law again, and it seems not a single thing has gone right today. Mistakes were made, the unexpected has happened, and the fallout is a domino effect of problems that are piling up quicker than the stack of overdue paperwork in the tray next to you. Your head is killing you and the phone won’t stop ringing. Every time you answer, it’s more bad news, more problems, more work stress.
And then you feel it. That telltale tightening in your throat that signals the threat of tears.
But you’re at work, and the last thing you need is to start crying in front of your coworkers. And yet, here you are, feeling overwhelmed with a one way ticket to Meltdown City.
…Ever been there?
I have. And so have a lot of women. 41% of us, actually. Yet, getting emotional at the office isn’t something that gets talked about enough. It’s a taboo topic, especially for women, who feel prone to judgement for showing any kind of emotion at work. To be honest, I’ve been hesitant to write about it myself for a long time, for that reason.
And the feeling isn’t unwarranted. Studies show that women who get teary at work are viewed as weak and unprofessional compared to their more stoic counterparts.
But we’re all human, and it’s only normal for emotions to run high in stressful situations. The difference between being professional and unprofessional isn’t defined by your ability to never cry at work.
It’s how you react and recover when it happens.
The next time the tension starts rising while you’re on the job, try these strategies to avoid – or recover from – an emotional blip at work.
** My blog posts contain affiliate links, which means that I may earn a commission on purchases you make after clicking on those links. (At no extra cost to you!) Full disclosure here. **
Take a break
As soon as you are starting to feel overwhelmed, try to extract yourself from the situation for a brief intermission, if you can. Don’t finish that email, don’t start the next phone call, just get up from your desk and take a walk. Go to the water cooler, get a coffee, or simply walk down the hall and back.
Avoid the washroom as the privacy may serve as temptation to cave to tears. (And once the floodgates open you know how hard it is to stop!) Concentrate on breathing slowly to calm yourself and shift the focus away from work stress. Two or three minutes might be all it takes regain your composure and get back to work.
Unfortunately, there are situations when you can’t take a break, and you need to get a grip in the moment. In these situations, it’s really helpful to put things in perspective. Often, we get caught up in the moment and have blinders on to the reality. Take a couple seconds to step back and ask yourself these two questions:
Is this a life-or-death situation?
Is this situation going to matter a year from now?
Unless you’re a surgeon, a firefighter, or someone who is otherwise in the business of saving lives, the answer to the above questions is probably going to be no. So in the grand scheme of things, is this something you really need to be worked up over?
Once you’ve gained some perspective, remind yourself that whatever is stressing you out is just another obstacle that you will overcome, one way or another. Acknowledging this can help you rise to the challenge more objectively.
Designate “emotional time” outside of work
Even if you are able to power through a tough day at work despite your emotions, bottling all that up for too long will just make it worse over time. It’s a good idea to reserve some time in the day, preferably after work, to just let yourself feel those emotions.
Different outlets can help with this, like listening to music or watching an emotional TV show. (I’ve been known to curl up with an episode of “This Is Us” after a hard work day!)
Help a colleague
Sometimes it helps to take the focus off your problems and on to someone else’s. When your desk is becoming overwhelming, see if you can help a coworker with their problems. This seems counterintuitive but might be just what you need to transform your overwhelm into positive work stress.
Not only will it take your mind off the thing that’s overwhelming you, but you’ll get a boost of confidence and resilience from helping someone else conquer their problem.
Perhaps your colleague might even return the favour and help you with the things that are overwhelming you! (Yay teamwork!)
Give yourself a break
If you did end up taking a trip to Meltdown City, try not to beat yourself up over it. I get it, it’s mortifying. But there’s a scientific explanation for why it happened! The hormone related to getting emotional is called Prolactin, and women have SIX TIMES more of it than men!
And honestly, chances are it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was. Whoever witnessed it has probably already forgotten about it. Really!
Regardless, remember that getting emotional at work does NOT translate to incompetence, nor does it mean you’re weak or less mentally tough. If anything, it’s a testament to your dedication and how much you care about doing a good job.
It’s not the end of the world, or your career.
Evaluate your work stress
Everyone experiences work stress, and feeling overwhelmed once in a while is bound to happen. But if you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed or getting upset at work, then it could be a sign to dig in a bit deeper to find out if there’s an underlying reason.
Is the role really the right fit for you? Is it a healthy work environment? Are there external, or personal factors at play?
Remember that your mental health comes first, always. No job – no matter what the pay – is worth trading your sanity for!
How do you cope with work stress? Share in the comments!