Mental Health at Work: Dealing with Negative Emotions

Working in a highly technological environment does not change the fact that we are humans—with emotions. 

Emotions can be both positive and negative. In this article, we will focus on the latter.  

You may have struggled with controlling your anger at the coworker who just does not seem to understand your guidelines, your frustration when the outcome of a project does not even closely resemble what you had in mind, or your dislike for your fellow colleague who you simply cannot get yourself to like. 

These emotions can get problematic when they interfere with your work, not to mention your overall well-being.  

If you don’t manage negative emotions effectively, they can very easily wear you down. You can either let yourself get reduced to a bubbling volcano of rage, ready to erupt with anger or pressure—or you can learn several tips and techniques to help you control these emotions. If you want to opt for the second (read: more sensible) option, read on.  

1. Identify your emotion and the trigger behind it 

Here’s a tip: don’t suppress or deny your emotion. It is bound to release in some form or the other, at a point sooner or later. The earlier you acknowledge it and work on it, the better it will be for you—both in the short and long run. Identify what the emotion is, and where it is stemming from. Once you understand the root cause, it will become much easier for you to work on navigating through your feelings and consequent behaviour. 

2. Check whether the trigger lies inside or outside your circle of control 

There are factors that lie within your circle of control (i.e. things you have control over), or outside it (things that lie beyond your control). If you remain cognizant of this concept, then it becomes pretty easy to distinguish the events that require your time and energy, and those that don’t.

 If the trigger is something you can control, then there is no need to stress as you can work through it and take the necessary measures. Likewise, if it lies beyond your control, then there isn’t much you can do about it—you are worrying for no reason. Instead, you can channel that same energy into something constructive, like figuring out alternative solutions to that problem. 

3. Communicate 

Let’s say you, a project lead, conveyed the instructions of your project to a QA tester. The latter does a terrible job. Instead of telling him or her where they went wrong, you stay quiet and angrily fix the issues yourself. This cycle keeps growing. With each phase, the intensity of your anger increases, bordering on rage. Finally, at a point, you burst.

All the outrage that has been built up over a period of time pours out at the QA tester—and there’s a fair chance that accompanying this anger are also other negative emotions within your system that have not necessarily been triggered by this particular situation, but get released along with it.

Had you informed the QA tester about his/her mistake the first time it had happened, rather than resolving it yourself, he or she would not have to bear the brunt of your culminated emotions. It, thus, becomes essential to communicate whenever necessary, rather than letting issues build up.  

4. Don’t let team hostility consume you 

At times, QA team members can seem downright impossible to deal with. This can arise from personal differences, disconnect with others’ thinking processes, miscommunication—so on and so forth. Don’t feel guilty if your first instinct is the desire to completely block out the presence of the coworker(s) you can’t get along with. But, if only it were as easy as that.

Since you are working as part of a QA team, chances are that you are stuck with XYZ for a solid period of time. So, instead of expending your energy in cultivating a hostile atmosphere, use it to communicate—openly and transparently—with your team members, and attempt to resolve the issues. If that doesn’t work out, take it up with your team lead. In short: negative emotions arising from team conflict can get taxing, so you should address it before it bogs you down. 

5. Deep breathing 

There are many breathing exercises out there that can help calm you down in situations where you are crumbling under the intensity of your emotions. One example is square, or box, breathing. This is how the technique works: inhale through your nose while counting to 4, hold your breath for 4 seconds, slowly exhale through your mouth while counting to 4, and finally, wait for 4 seconds before repeating the process.

You don’t necessarily have to do this only under stressful circumstances—try practicing it at different intervals during the day. It is a significant facilitator in stress management. 

6. Don’t make important decisions in an emotional state 

When you are overly emotional—whether that is with anguish, fear, anger, or guilt—you are likely to let your emotions cloud your rational judgement. Before making any decision that will have long lasting consequences, clear your mind and release any intense emotion that’s clasping your mind, so you can base your conclusion on objective grounds. 

7. Compartmentalize your work and personal life 

We are often guilty of letting stressors from our personal life spill over into our work life, whether we do this consciously or subconsciously. When you arrive at the office, try to concentrate all your focus on the work itself, rather than getting distracted by non-official matters. Don’t let triggers from your personal life affect your work; a better option would be to take some time off from work if there are matters at home that require your attention. 

8. Take a short walk  

Detaching yourself from your surroundings and catching a breather is yet another useful technique to release negative emotion. A good way to do this is to take a short walk in attempt to unwind yourself. Step outside your office for a bit, and perhaps grab a cup of tea or a glass of water on the way back. 

Being consumed by negative emotions at work can be challenging, no doubt. As emotions are a part of human existence, you cannot avoid them—but you can certainly control the way you deal with them.  

Implementing the above tips would be a promising start.