How to manage your emotions at work?

Emotions are universal – each one of us has them all the time. Sometimes they are of happiness, joy, thrill while at others they are of frustration, anger, sadness etc. It is not important to manage just the negative emotions but also the positive ones.

If we observe our emotions carefully we will find all the information about – “why we do things, the way we do them”. Managing our emotions means – understanding & using them in a way that they will benefit us. Once we are able to recognise our emotions, we can very easily modify our actions and influence the final outcome.

Many of us believe that it is the actions of other people which trigger our emotions. However, the matter of fact is that it is our own beliefs about a situation or person which are the reason behind our emotions. Hence, the power to manage them lies only and only with us.

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Components of Emotions

There are three components of your system of emotions. It is extremely important for all these three components to work in close conjunction with each other to ensure that your emotional responses to an event, situation or behaviour are well composed.

 These three components are:

1. Your thoughts
2. The physiological changes you experience with an emotion
3. Your actions driven by your thoughts

Managing your emotions means taking control of these three components and ensuring that they behave as you want.

How to control the three components of Emotion System?

Controlling your thoughts

Whenever we are faced with a distressful situation, we get some immediate thoughts related to the event or the person. These thoughts are out of our control, distorted and disturb our ability to think rationally. The distorted thinking related to these thoughts is often difficult to control and can cause unnecessary physiological changes in the body leading to distorted actions.

Here are some tips to avoid distorted thinking:

1. Recognise that these are distorted thoughts – As soon as you get into the mode of distorted thinking, you must immediately recognise that these are distorted thoughts which need to be shut down.

2. Don’t get into overgeneralization mode and avoid negative labelling – While in distorted thinking mode, we start over generalizing the things which intensifies our emotions.

For e.g. If your boss refuses your application for the vacation, you start thinking that he is always inconsiderate, doesn’t think about the staff etc. While in reality you may actually appreciate your boss for a lot of things he has done for the staff. And, he might look inconsiderate only in this particular event. So, don’t over generalize and label him as “always inconsiderate”. However, you may think that, boss look a bit inconsiderate in this particular matter, which he generally is not.

3. Don’t try to read other person’s mind – In distressful situations, we start imagining what the other might be thinking. Our imaginations have no limits and may at times be very wild further aggravating the problem. Rather than imagining, it is a better idea to go and ask them about their thoughts about that particular incidence.

For e.g. When your boss questions your plan of action a lot during the meeting, he is not necessarily doubting your abilities or the plan. May be he needs more information to make sure that the plan takes off well. So, rather than imagining that boss is not sue about the plan, it is better to ask him his views about it. You may be surprised to know that he does like the idea but needs more information.

4. Lower your expectations about other’s behaviour – We usually have a tendency to expect “how others should behave with us in this situation”. They might not behave according to our expectations as they have their own perception about the situation/ event/ person. This further aggravates our emotions.

For e.g. After a hot discussion in the meeting room, you may expect your colleague to come and apologize to you, which he might not do. He might not consider it as a mistake as according to him he has just put his opinion across and doesn’t find a need to apologize.

5. Don’t over emphasize upon the importance of any particular event – Many a times we lay so much importance to a particular event that we think or talk about it 24 X 7. In such a situation, we block all other productive emotions which can actually benefit us. Over emphasizing upon the importance of something turns your mild worries into anxiety and tension.

For e.g. If you have not been able to finish your project on time because of some reasons, you may think to yourself, that “Oh God, this looks like the end of my job. The boss is extremely unhappy and he may fire me.” However, the boss may not fire you for just one missed deadline, if you communicate properly with her. She may be unhappy about it but thinking about it as the end of your job is the result of over emphasis and actually increases your anxiety level. However, if you tell yourself, “I know I am going to miss this deadline though I have tried to do my best. Let me go and talk to the boss and seek her help to finish it quickly”, you will see your worries diminishing and your productivity increasing.

Now that we have learnt to control the first component of our Emotion System i.e. our thoughts, let us move on to learn controlling the next one i.e. the physiological changes associated with each emotion.

Controlling the physiological changes associated with an emotion

You would notice that each emotion that you experience is associated with some or the other physiological change. For e.g. When you are happy, you are able to breath more easily, you may have a smile on your face. When you are angry you heart beat gets faster, you breath heavily and may notice some drops of sweat on your forehead. Nervousness may leave you with warm cheeks or butterflies in the stomach.

All of us experience these or some other changes in our body in distressful moments.

It is difficult to control an emotion once it takes over while It is much easier to prevent it if you are able to recognise that an emotion is about to take over.

So, how can you use your physiological changes as a sign to identify that an emotion is about to take over and control them? Here are some tips:

1. Learn to associate emotions with physiological changes – If you observe yourself you would notice that you feel some of the above listed changes in your body during a distressful situation. You may also observe some other changes peculiar to your body. Try to identify them and associate them with your emotions.
2. Notice the physiological changes as soon as they appear – Once you have identified the type of physiological changes your body experiences in a situation, it will be easier for you to notice them as soon as the signs appear in your body. You will be able to tell yourself – “My hands are shaking, I am starting to feel nervous” or “I heart beat is increasing and my cheeks are getting warm, I am starting to feel angry”.

A problem well diagnosed is half solved. Once you have identified these changes, you can take measures to put them to rest. Let us see what these measures can be and how you can use them.

In a distressful situation, the oxygen supply in our body reduces which increases the heart beat and respiratory rate or makes the stomach feel butterflies.

3. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation etc. on a regular basis. During the process learn to associate some words or sounds like OM or PEACE or the relaxing sound of water movement in a lake with relaxation and peace. The regular practice conditions your mind to accept these words and sounds as soon as you call them in an event of distress.

So, if you take deep breaths as soon as you notice the respiratory rate or heart beat rate increasing, the oxygen level in your body doesn’t diminish and the first signs of distress fade off. Similarly, if you invoke the relaxation words or sounds when you notice that you are getting angry, anxious or nervous, you will see that they vanish and the actual emotion is diffused before it takes over.

The third component your emotion system is your actions which are driven by your emotions. For e.g. you start shaking your legs when you are nervous or avoid looking into other person’s eyes when you are not confident or trying to avoid them. These are some actions associated with our emotions.

So, how do we control these actions influenced by our emotions?

1. Recognise and accept the actions – Now that you know that your certain actions are invoked by certain emotions, the first thing required to control them is to recognise and accept them.

For e.g. If you are hiding from your busy boss because you haven’t completed the monthly report yet, tell yourself that “I am hiding from my boss because I haven’t finished the report which he asked me to do.” OR “I know, I am shaking my legs because I am nervous to present the new plan of action before the board.”

2. Enter into a productive communication with yourself and control your actions – Having recognised these actions, control them, stop them. Now, start talking to yourself, “Hiding from boss is not going to solve the problem. He will ask me about the report as soon as he gets free. Let me update him through the e-mail that I was busy with something else which delayed the report but it will be ready by tomorrow after noon.” You will see that immediately you will be at rest and the boss will acknowledge it some how.

Some additional techniques which can help you in dealing with intense emotions are:

1. Getting busy – If you feel some intense emotions, like that of anger, fear, anxiety – try to get yourself busy in some other work which diverts your attention and consumes your energy. Slowly the emotion would fade off and you will be able to think more rationally. At work, these activities could be like – re-arranging your desk, filing the papers, clearing the clutter from your drawer etc.
2. Laugh – Laughter therapy is the best medicine for many of our problems. The muscles get relaxed and the brain get de-stressed with the good hormones produced by the body. Share a joke with your friends, read some silly notes or see some silly pictures, think about some silly activity you or someone else did in the past etc. The intense emotions would start diffusing in some time.
3. Take time out – If you get into a really hot situation and begin to loose your temper, the best thing to do is to take a short break and come back to discuss it with a cool mind.

Emotions are unstoppable. They will keep surfacing, the only requirement is to manage them and use them in an intelligent way to ensure that they give you the benefits you desire.   

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