Most people will spend a third of their lives at work. And that’s a significant amount of time to spend in a place that can, often, be a place of emotional ups and downs. Just think of what happens throughout your work life: excitement over a promotion, stress from major deadlines, anxiety over conflict with a colleague, or disappointment over job loss.
There’s a lot going on at work! This is why everyone—but particularly leaders—needs to learn how to regulate their emotions at work.
4 Practical Ways to Regulate Your Emotions at Work
Regulating emotions is not about ignoring them or reacting to them, but it’s about developing ways to identify them and operate from a place of control and choice. There are four ways to do it:
1. Pay attention to your Physical needs
Our physical needs are directly tied to our emotional needs. And that’s because we are both physical and emotional (or spiritual and psychological) people! Here are four areas to focus on:
- Sleep: Are you getting enough? Research shows that 55% of Americans are not. We know sleep matters because no one works at their best when they’re sleep-deprived.
- Food: Are you eating well and eating enough? Are you skipping lunch? Even if you technically add an hour of work to your day, you’re losing out because you are not as regulated and calm as you need to be.
- Exercise: It can be anything from a short walk to something more intense. The physicality of exercise can help us modulate our emotions.
- Rest: Breaks don’t need to be 20-30 minutes—even a quick stretch break here and there! A little goes a long way.
2. Increase areas of Positivity and Gratitude
People who are more positive and optimistic are better able to regulate their emotions. And this isn’t about forcing yourself to turn any negative or challenging thing into something positive—it’s still important to acknowledge and work through those emotions, too.
But positivity and gratitude can help you re-frame your emotions and see something in a different way. One way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal where you write down things you are thankful for. Then, when something frustrating or challenging comes up, you can turn to the journal and see evidence of positive and good things in your life.
3. Increase Self-awareness
Emotions don’t just come out of nowhere—they’re usually triggered by a specific event. Our bodies will usually tell us when we’re being triggered. So, what are the signs? It could be tension in shoulders or jaw, an elevated heartrate, or suddenly feeling hot or cold.
Once you identify those physical signs, you can identify them as triggers and analyze where they came from (i.e., boss walking in, people talking about budget or a stressful project).
When you are more self-aware about your triggers, you no longer need to just react to them. You can take a moment to evaluate how you’re feeling and then choose how to respond in that situation.
4. Emotional Re-appraisal
Most of us have been taught that some emotions are good, and some are bad. But this is not helpful language because all emotions are useful in showing us what’s going on around us and how we’re feeling in the moment.
Here’s a three-step technique to help re-appraise your emotions—RAR:
- Recognize: Notice when you’ve been triggered and why it came up. Pay attention to your physical symptoms and attach the emotion to it.
- Accept: No one does well by suppressing their emotions! When we push them down, they tend to “leak out” in ways we don’t want to. So, accept that they are there!
- Re-frame: When you have recognized and accepted your emotions, you can move into the re-framing mode. Look at the situation from a different angle so that some of the intense emotion dissipates.
There are so many opportunities to practice these skills because we’re emotional beings! And a good leader is someone who learns to regulate their emotions—not ignore them or push them down but understand them and learn how to regulate it. A good leader is not reactive but can operate from a place of choice over their emotions and how they manage them.