Practicing mindfulness and managing unpleasant emotions at work

3 min read

According to psychologists, emotions should not be suppressed (Beblo et al., 2012), so all pleasant and unpleasant feelings should be integrated and released. However, being at work, it is important to manage our emotional state, especially when it comes to anxiety, frustration, worry, anger, dislike, and unhappiness. However, despite the fact that these emotions might come off as unpleasant ones, it is not always the best idea to try to shut them down completely. Emotions need to be managed to function well in various situations, where "managing" them does not mean completely shutting them, and rather means releasing them in a functional way.

Psychologist Sharon C. Martin said, "When we release negative emotions, we free up space and energy for positive, successful, and fulfilling things. We need to gain awareness of our feelings, accept them without judging them as 'good' or 'bad,' and use healthy coping skills to release them". However, how are you supposed to do just that? Here are some science-backed tips that can help you become more mindful and collected when it comes to emotions at work: 

1. Know your triggers

First of all, it is essential to know the triggers that can cause you unpleasant emotions. When you are able to recognize what upsets or angers you, you can train yourself to remain calm and plan your reaction should the situation occur. When reflecting on a stressful day, try asking yourself “What made me feel this way?”, write down the triggers and look for certain patterns - this way, you will be able to recognize the common triggers in the future and give them more thought than action at first.

2. Reappraise and reframe

Once you accept that pleasant and unpleasant emotions are a part of us and make us human beings, you can start learning how to reappraise the situation and how you react to it. Reappraisal and reframing emotions are the healthiest way to deal with emotions (Gross, 2002). In other words, try to see the situation from different perspectives - perhaps, an unpleasant emotion is just a protective barrier between you and a risky action? 

3. Deep breathing & relaxation techniques

Breathing exercises and meditation are proven to help with relieving anxiety, worry, frustration, and anger (Szabo & Kocsis, 2016). Take deep breaths, inhale and exhale slowly while counting to ten. It should be repeated at least ten times, or do it until you calm down. "Take in the emotion, and release it with a breath. For someone who feels like they don't have time to meditate, taking a deep breath can help. Think of it starting in your stomach and coming up from your chest."- Healthcare advocate Michelle Katz.

4. Carry a little rock or a squishy ball

Whenever you feel the sudden rise of emotions, take a small rock or a stress ball and combine it with breathing exercises. While inhaling, squeeze the object in your palm, and by exhaling, relax your palm. This way, you will shift your attention to the muscles in your arms and release the tension by combining it with deep breathing. 

5. Write emotions down

Writing is a powerful tool to release emotions and gain some mental clarity (Chang et al., 2013). University of California (2016) found that writing down your emotions can even alleviate physical pain by reducing the activity of the brain's part (amygdala), which is responsible for emotions. Also, have you heard of emotional literacy? Tracking and writing out your emotions increases your ability to communicate the emotions more clearly while enhancing the quality of all relationships. You can read up about it here!

6. The 10-second rule

The 10-second rule is especially helpful if you are feeling angry or frustrated. Various studies (e.g. Kerr, 2012) showed that when you feel your temper going up, it’s helpful to try and count to 10 to recompose yourself. It might sound funny, although it works. By counting to 10, we overcome emotional responses, since our limbic system, the one that causes the fight-or-flight response, also controls our emotions. The first 10 seconds is the exact timeframe when we want to act upon our emotion, therefore, counting to ten helps to contain yourself and not overreact (Blair, 2012). Taking a few moments before taking the action leads to less overthinking in the future.

References: 

Beblo, T., Fernando, S., Klocke, S., Griepenstroh, J., Aschenbrenner, S., & Driessen, M. (2012). Increased suppression of negative and positive emotions in major depression. Journal of affective disorders, 141(2-3), 474-479.

Blair, R. J. R. (2012). Considering anger from a cognitive neuroscience perspective. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 3(1), 65-74.

Chang, J. H., Huang, C. L., & Lin, Y. C. (2013). The psychological displacement paradigm in diary-writing (PDPD) and its psychological benefits. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(1), 155-167.

Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281–291. doi:10.1017/S0048577201393198

Kerr, M. M. (2012). Anger management.

Niles, A. N., Byrne Haltom, K. E., Lieberman, M. D., Hur, C., & Stanton, A. L. (2016). Writing content predicts benefit from written expressive disclosure: Evidence for repeated exposure and self-affirmation. Cognition and Emotion, 30(2), 258-274.


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