The workplace is rife with stressors as we have seen in the last couple of our blogs in the series ‘Workplace Stress’. People are managing job expectations, handling multiple projects, sometimes worrying about job security, and navigating relationships at work while also coping with national and global events that affect daily life. During times of stress, with so many plates spinning, it is easy to get burned out or feel overwhelmed by emotions. Stress is a normal reaction to the pressures of everyday life. Worry, fear, anger, sadness, and other emotions are also all normal emotional responses. They are all part of life. However, if the stress that underlies these emotions interferes with your ability to do the things you want or need to do, this stress becomes unhealthy.

This response to stress can trigger your body to show many physical symptoms such as headaches, a heaviness in your chest, clenching your jaw (unknowingly), or a marked change in sleep patterns. Mentally this may manifest as feeling overwhelmed, having trouble focusing on work or keeping track of things, and being more emotional than usual.

Our initial response, almost always, is to run from it and avoid confronting our emotions during stress. Instead of doing that, here are three phases of action that you can turn to when you feel your emotions getting on top of you during stressful times-

Phase 1: Acknowledge that there is a frightening emotion and turn around to face it

This is often termed as radical acceptance. Sometimes there is a tremendous surprise people get in just taking that step – once they acknowledge their fear and they get a chance to see it for what it is – it sometimes does not seem quite so overwhelming, or they have more courage to face it than they imagined. This phase is all about allowing yourself to face it in your own time. You keep telling yourself that it will be okay when you face the emotion and thus have the bandwidth and courage to actually do it!

Phase 2: Permit yourself small ‘escapes’ when you feel overwhelmed

None of us could simply sit in our painful emotions 24/7 without a break. There is nothing wrong with temporarily leaning on distractions that give us comfort and respite. These can include the internet, social media, TV, physical activity, and napping to name a few.

If we are intentional, we can infuse small moments of enjoyment or pleasure into even the most demanding day. Have a short project to work on? Do it with somebody on the same team! Have some mundane tasks to complete? Pop in your earpods and have some music going. It is true that all work and no play makes for a very dull life indeed, and adding in small positive moments throughout your day can really add up. These experiences don’t have to be grandiose, they can be simple gestures to yourself throughout the day. The key is to add enjoyment and to experience it mindfully. Think about the sum of your experiences as an emotional battery. If you aren’t accumulating enough positive experiences, your emotional battery will get low or you could experience burnout. Seeking out positive experiences with purposeful awareness, although seemingly simple, will increase your resilience during challenging times by ensuring that you have enough charge in your emotional battery. This is called ‘accumulating positive experiences’.

But, it is important that you steer clear of distracting yourself with alcohol, drugs, or relationships not based on love and respect. The key is understanding that we are distracting ourselves for comfort and that we are only temporarily doing so. There should be every intention of turning back towards our pain or fear once we have the energy and fortitude that the rest can bring. Treat this escape as it is- an escape or a period of rest where you recharge and rejuvenate.

Phase 3: Go deeper into that frightening emotion

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? The difficult news here is that no matter the help you seek, no matter the number of people you surround yourself with, YOU will have to face your emotions all by yourself- because this is a battle that rages within and is won there. Grief is a process and something all of us will have to face (if not now then certainly at some later time). But it is a natural process as long as it is not blocked by too much distraction – so even in this case turning to the feeling and better yet talking with others about it is very important.

The process of going deeper is unique to every individual. Ask yourself- “What is the worst that can happen due to this emotion?” and then either work to prevent that outcome or prepare yourself mentally to deal with it.

These are general guidelines to deal with painful emotions and it takes for granted the person has had a reasonably supportive family and relationships with loving and healthy people. Sometimes people just need help in untangling some of these feelings if they are consistently overwhelmed which causes them to have problems functioning.

All said and done, sometimes, even the best of us are not able to overcome the train-wreck of emotions that threaten to undo all our work and relationships. We must not hesitate to seek help at that stage- there are some things that only professionals can handle.

Blog you later!