The average person will spend about 260 days at work each year.
No matter how healthy you are -- or how much self-care you give yourself -- at least a couple of those days are bound to be emotionally challenging.
Whether it's the loss of a beloved pet, the passing of a relative, a break-up, a bad performance review, or something physical -- like a frustrating injury that just won't seem to heal -- you might have a day where your emotions are really tough to manage. Try as you might? You might struggle to keep those emotions from spilling out... at work.
Having an emotional outburst while you're at the office -- crying, sniffling, yelling, or going into hysterics -- is generally considered to be pretty unprofessional.
But if you have an outburst at work, it doesn't necessarily mean that your professional credibility is "ruined." (Just about everyone has been in your shoes, at some point or another, and your colleagues are probably just hoping you're OK.)
That being said: it's a good idea to communicate with the people you work with -- letting them know what's going on for you and reassuring them that you're working to get things under control.
A few tips...
If you have an outburst in front of a colleague...
Acknowledge what happened and apologize briefly, if necessary.
You could say to your boss, for example: "I want to acknowledge what happened yesterday. I got upset and started to cry. I was having an unusually rough day and I wasn't operating at my best. I'm taking steps to make sure it won't happen again.
Thank you for understanding."
If you (really) want to reinforce that you're taking proactive steps to prevent another outburst from happening in the future, you might add: "I took some extra time alone last night to let out my feelings, in private, and I'm feeling much better now."
If someone catches you crying in private (like in the bathroom)...
Say something like: "Please don't mind me. I just received some very difficult news and I need to let my feelings out... so that I can go back to my desk and be able to focus again."
You might ask your colleague to keep this "encounter" confidential. Hopefully, he or she will do so.
Assuming your colleague is sensitive and compassionate, he or she will understand, and might even offer some reassurance:
"Oh, that's all right, I completely understand. You take your time. Is there anything I can do for you right now?"
If something "big" is going on (like losing a friend or relative, being diagnosed with an illness, or unexpectedly becoming a caregiver for an elderly parent)...
Don't be afraid to have an honest conversation with your boss, your HR department or your trusted colleagues. You don't necessarily have to go into a lot of detail about what's going on in your life -- just express that you're dealing with some personal matters, and that if you're a little more emotional than usual, that's why.
Assure them that this won't interfere with your work performance and that you're working on getting a handle on your feelings so that you don't bring them into the office. Thank them for their understanding and patience.
Remember that -- no matter what is going on in your life -- you are in charge of your emotions.
You can take steps to ensure that you remain calm and professional at work, even during the worst of times.
What kinds of "steps"? One option is to release pent-up emotions -- in privacy, at home -- by thwacking a pillow with a knotted up towel while expressing yourself out loud ("I'm so mad!" "I'm so scared!" "I hate this!"). I studied this "thwacking technique" while completing my PhD dissertation and I have found it to be incredibly effective. Try it.
You may feel a sense of emotional release after just a few minutes.
You can also try journaling and reading your insights back to yourself, out loud. Or try screaming into a pillow (it will muffle the sound.) And of course, you can work with a life coach, counselor or therapist if you're having troubling managing your emotions -- or "letting go" of a difficult incident in your life -- on your own.
As the wonderful Fred Rogers once wrote:
"Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone."
Being "emotional" -- at work or anywhere else -- does not make you "broken" or "weak" or a "messed up person" or a "bad employee."
It just makes you human.
As a human being, you have feelings. You may -- occasionally -- have inappropriate outbursts and slip-ups when those feelings become too intense to keep inside. You also have the capacity to grow, gain new tools, and learn to express your feelings in a more appropriate way. Just by reading this article? You've gained a few new tools, today.
Here's to a happy, calm and productive day at work... or wherever you may be!
Dr. Suzanne Gelb is a clinical psychologist, life coach and family law attorney.
She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be. Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back -- no matter what has happened in the past.
Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at TIME, Forbes, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, The Daily Love, MindBodyGreen, and many other places.
Step into her virtual office at DrSuzanneGelb.com, explore her blog, book a private session, or sign up to receive a free meditation and her weekly writings on health, happiness and self-respect.You can also follow her on Twitter and FB.