Have you ever cried at work? Whether personal or work-related?
How about on the playing field?
What were you taught to do with that emotion?
Suppress it? Fight it? Hide it? Turn it off?
Did anyone ever tell you to just sit with it? Let it out? Journal about it?
Do those methods work, and even if they work in the short-term, what are the long-term impacts?
How many people, let alone leaders, are taught how to process emotion?
How many people have turned to medication or self-medication not as a last resort, but as a go-to to not deal with emotion?
What has toxic masculinity, rugged individualism, and toxic positivity done to contribute to the prevalence of mental illness in adults and those entering adulthood – the generation with the highest rates of mental illness (even pre-COVID) ever?
Or, has it been the increased stimulation and distraction that has led to the increase? Has it been the increase in expectations from our young people to thrive academically and athletically without allowing and accommodating room for our youth to just be still?
The prevalence of mental illness and high-profile mass shootings and bombings has forced some of these questions to the forefront, but what place do these questions have in the workplace?
I am thankful that I started therapy young – in the 5th grade. It was the first time someone told me it was okay to have feelings – to have MY feelings. Still, it has taken a lifetime to make peace with the intensity of my emotions.
In order to de-stigmatize mental illness, we also have to de-stigmatize emotions. We have to de-stigmatize therapy and normalize healthy outlets, like yoga, meditation, journaling, walking, boxing, etc.
Eliminate the words “woo woo” and “new age” in the context of these practices. There is enough science at this point to substantiate their efficacy, so using those words just makes you seem ignorant, insensitive, and obsolete.
Additionally, it’s time the workplace was encouraging, even accommodating, of these outlets.
If an employer assumes that employees are taking care of their emotional and mental health needs outside of work hours, it’s a dangerous assumption.
Every manager and leader needs to be trained on how to create a conducive environment to have and process emotions, whether privately or with you. As individuals, we have to know how to take care of these needs on our own, but as a leader, you should be able to uncover these needs and know where to refer employees for the care of these needs.
What about physical wellness? Science has proven a link between mental health and physical health. Read more about the links and the costs of this in our Mindfulness and EI training report.
What do you do as an individual experiencing emotions at work?
Firstly, do not apologize!
Secondly, fight your inclination to hide or suppress these emotions. Call them out by name. “I’m feeling _______________. I need a moment.”
You don’t have to decide anything else in this moment – what to do next, what to say, whether to go home or stay, who you’re inconveniencing, etc.
You can leave the room, or stay there. I find it easier to be with my emotions when I’m alone, at least at first. So, I would likely leave the room. I would head outside if I could, or toward any kind of nature – even opening a window would help.
Just allow it. Think of emotion as Energy in Motion – E-motion. It needs to flow. Breathing helps move the emotion through your body. It’s so easy to forget to breathe in the middle of intense emotion!
Be in it. Tune into your body – where are you experiencing this emotion physically? Your head? Your chest? Shoulders and neck?
If you feel like a victim, start processing all that happened to inspire these feelings. Have a pity party. Write down all of the events and feelings. Get them out into the open where you can refer back to them post-processing and sort out what is real, what is truth, what is story, what is assumption, and what is a product of your insecurities and limiting beliefs.
The time it takes to move through the emotion decreases as you get better at being with your pain.
At first, you may need a good 30 minutes, especially if an event was severe or historical. (If a reaction is hysterical, the cause is historical!)
What other possibilities exist?
What is in your control?
What outcome do you want? The desired outcome is not a necessary component of processing emotions, however, once your emotions are processed, you will have better logical judgment about what you want to happen next – if you need to go home, if you need to speak with someone, or if you are ready to face your co-workers and boss again.
You are under NO obligation to explain anything or apologize to anyone if you have dealt with your emotions healthfully. However, if someone was caught in the crossfire before you were able to process your emotion, you will have to decide if an apology is necessary to restore your integrity or your relationships. Depending on the severity of the blow, you may need to do much more than apologize and there may be irreversible consequences.
Learn from these consequences, prevent them in the future, and do not define yourself by these human moments.
What do you do as a leader when a team member is experiencing emotions?
Firstly, always validate emotions. Many managers and leaders do not want to be the recipient of anger, but this is a manifestation of ego, not empathy. So, even if the anger is directed at you, affirm that the person has a “right” to feel how they feel.
Ask them if they would like time to be alone or if they want to talk to you or with anyone else.
Be wary of pulling in human resources if human resources in your company is more inclined to react disciplinarily rather than resourcefully. At their best, human resources professionals are quite experienced and trained in serving in some counseling capacity, but there is too often a conflict of interest in processing events in compliance with policies and being fully emotionally available. There are also varying levels of severity that would certainly exceed the normal skill sets of human resources. If there is not a dedicated, licensed counselor or coach on staff, the best practice for HR is to refer the employee to other resources.
If you become the confidant. just listen. Don’t advise. Give the employee space to speak and process their emotions. Don’t try to fix anything, if there is anything for you as a leader to fix, until emotions have equalized. The message they need most is that you are committed to creating a safe place for them to share their emotions. You will have your own emotions about it, and you are justified in having those, too, but in this moment, just focus on listening. Eventually, it might be necessary to put your compassion into action. Allow yourself to process your own emotions before making any determinations, however.
If you and your company really want to demonstrate that you care and are willing to invest in the mental and emotional wellness of your team, allocate a room just for their emotional wellness.
What kinds of things would an emotional wellness room include?
A variety of tools to express a variety of emotions, from sadness to fear to anger.
- A box of tissues
- A punching bag
- A small table with chairs in case someone wants to talk it out
- Papers and pens
- Coloring books
- Pillows to scream into
- Stuffed animals to squeeze or throw
- A help button
- A reference list for hotlines and guided meditations
- A trampoline
- Resistance bands
- Exercise mats
- A water fountain
Additional concerns I have that require additional research, perhaps research that has not yet been conducted, include finding out at what rate corporate leaders are medicated for mental illness. How does that impact their centers of empathy in the brain and their ability to make conscious decisions? I am sure there are instances in which the medication enhances their ability to handle stressful situations, but I wonder about the situations that are people-related.
I am not anti-medication generally, and no – I absolutely do not want to stigmatize taking medication. The side effects of many of these medications seem sometimes worse than the condition, and I do worry that drugs are too frequently prescribed when there are other therapies, coping mechanisms, and non-prescription solutions that would present better long-term options for enhanced mental health. I know many people who have found healthier alternatives to pharmaceuticals, are able to come off their prescribed medicines (under a doctor’s care), and then realize just how numb they had been. Numb is the most often used word.
I wonder how much more challenging it is to be empathetic when you are numb.
I hope for answers someday, and have been looking lately into pursuing a Ph.D. to dig into this deeper, among other research. If you have knowledge of any resources and/or research on this topic, please connect with me on social media. If you have a personal story about this, I would love to hear it.
How were you taught to deal with your emotions?
How were you taught to deal with other people’s emotions?
Music video by Guns N’ Roses performing Don’t Cry (Original Version). (C) 1991 Guns N’ Roses under exclusive license to Geffen Records
Karen Huller is the creator of the Corporate Consciousness Ripple Blueprint and author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days. She founded Epic Careering, a leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, in 2006.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. Her solutions incorporate breakthroughs in neuroscience, human performance optimization, bioenergetics, and psychology to help leaders accelerate rapport, expand influence, and elevate engagement and productivity while also looking out for the sustainability of the business and the planet.
Mrs. Huller was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She was an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business. As an instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, she has helped two of her students win the 2018 National Competition to be named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, to win the 2019 People’s Choice Award, and to land in the top 8 during the (virtual) 2020 National Competition.
She is board secretary for the Upper Merion Community Center and just finished serving as Vice President of the Gulph Elementary PTC, for which she received recognition as a Public Education Partner and Promoter from the Upper Merion Area Education Association. She lives in King of Prussia with her husband, two daughters, and many pets, furry, feathered, and scaly.