How can I simmer my crazy emotions down in the workplace?
November 14, 2007 1:39 PM   Subscribe

How can I stay more even-tempered at work, when I feel like my emotions are out of control! Or at least appear even-tempered and approachable!

Lately a few things have been affecting my emotional state so that I feel like my emotions are out of control, especially at work. Namely, I feel like I was unfairly passed over for a promotion (it was given to someone with far less experience than me), I've been given a lot more stuff to do at work (without any sort of recompense), I've also gone off of anti-depressants recently because I feel like they were making me fat & complacent, and I've also gone off birth control pills (and I can promise you I am not pregnant). I think the work stuff has left me feeling suspicious of people's motives and opinions of me, and I think that going off of anti-depressants has made my emotions feel more vivid than they have in years.

I've always felt that I was good about being reasonable, assertive but not aggressive, pleasant, easy-going, etc, especially at work, but lately I feel like I magnify every small slight into something huge, that makes me snap at people and fume for days. I also feel like I'm going around with this general feeling that everyone is against me and that I'm not being included in projects & meetings that I should be included on.

I feel like when I bring stuff like being left out of meetings up, that I have a hard time just sounding pleasant and concerned, but instead accusatory & angry. I don't want people to start viewing me as a jerk or someone you have to walk on eggshells around. I also want to change my image from being a complacent slacker to being someone who is promotable (rather than someone who's too crazy & emotional to deal with people).

How can I simmer down? I'm at the point where I feel like I am bitching about people too much (and their work, if it affects me), that I am incapable of having an adult discussion about my role & promotability without busting out into tears, and that being at a simmering boil all the time has made it so that people can literally see the steam rising from my ears!

I'm like this at home too, but at least my husband has been understanding. I just really want to reign in my emotions so that I can think before I speak, not have a quavering or angry-sounding voice when I do speak, and try not to let people bother me. THat way I feel like I could focus more on work and enjoying it and the people I work with.

Any suggestions? Tips? Books or resources?
posted by catfood to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Can you take a vacation? Maybe after a week or two away it will be easier to start with a clean slate.

Also, I recommend finding something new to focus on for a few months: train for a marathon, start planning the small business you've always wanted, or get pregnant! Once you have something more interesting to think about, you'll stop taking work stress so personally.
posted by jrichards at 1:44 PM on November 14, 2007

Understanding the brain chemistry of what's going on helps considerably. Also, while it may seem a bit too new-agey, the Zen practice of "Mindfulness" has scientific backing...

What's likely happening is you're the victim of "amygdala hijacking"... it's a process where your brain goes into fight or flight mode, and you stop acting rationally and start reacting emotionally...

If you understand this and remember it at the time, you can remind yourself of it and address the issue.. take a deep breath, stay silent for a moment before you speak, etc... It is of course much easier said than done and requires practice.

I would recommend reading books like:
Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman)
Emotional Alchemy (Tara Bennett-Goleman .. yes, wife)

Meditation books would help as well. Meditation is typically used as the "path" to mindfulness, because it allows you to become aware of your body's condition. You don't realize it at the time as much as you do after the fact, but your muscles tense up, your breathing becomes different, and other changes occur when you are upset.

Being aware of these things and understanding them is the best way to combat or at least control them.

There is no magic bullet, and any change like this will require serious commitment and time investment as far as practice -- you're trying to control deeply embedded biological functions, and that's tough.
posted by twiggy at 1:47 PM on November 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

How about taking a walk at lunch time? Some exercise will boost your mood and get you out of that environment. Good nutrition will help also. I also found turning off the lights to be a huge help if that is a possibility in your environment. I don't know what it is about florescent lights that make me want to go postal after a while, but they do. If there is enough natural light where you are (or bring in an alternative light source) that might help.

Have you also considered that you have some of the classic signs of burn out? Maybe it is just time for a new job that is more in sync with your current goals.
posted by 45moore45 at 1:48 PM on November 14, 2007

I deal with my emotions in a couple of ways. I either force them down to the point I don't feel them any more (you need a strong will to do this, and the results are really not worth it), or find a creative release for them - writing, working out, etc.

I hesitate to ask this, but do you think that your emotions could be caused by hormonal upset (coming off the Pill)?
posted by Rabulah at 1:50 PM on November 14, 2007

I do think the emotions are partly (maybe even mostly) hormonal - both from the Pill and from going off the anti-depressants. The anti-depressants fuck with the chemicals in your brain, so I did expect to have a period of "adjustment", but I really need to reign my mood swings in at work.

It's also worth noting that I've been getting angry both at work and at home over the dumbest stupid things, and getting angry to the point where I get light headed and feel like I'm going to faint.
posted by catfood at 1:52 PM on November 14, 2007

I had that problem once. I got some new psychiatric medication and a new job. Worked wonders.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:53 PM on November 14, 2007

I just really want to reign in my emotions ... In fact, they're reigning over you.

The 1001 issues and behaviors mentioned in your post are too much for a simple answer. Any suggestions? Tips? Books or resources? You have some long-overdue work to do with a therapist. Your post mentioned antidepressants, but not therapy. You don't sound depressed at the moment, but IANAD so I shouldn't mention it further.

In the short term, medications like Xanax (alprazolam) can take the edge off while not impairing work performance. A book won't do it. Good luck.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:59 PM on November 14, 2007

Please don't take this the wrong way, because it happens to everyone but- maybe the negative things that have happened to you at work, like being left out of meetings, or losing that promotion, could be partially due to your mood and becoming easily irritated. Getting some help with your issues from a professional (sounds like you were before) may not only help your mood at work, but how you are treated by others at work, in turn improving your mood. Like a cycle. Anyway. just something to consider.
posted by fructose at 2:01 PM on November 14, 2007

Figure out some way to blow off steam or excess energy periodically throughout the day. Cubicle dance party? Run up a flight of stairs?

I think just listening to music that makes me smile works. It's working. Right. Now. Distract yourself. Anything to just let this drama pass until you can deal with it with clear sight. You probably do not have to act on these issues while you feel this way. Try to avoid it.

Also, breathe. ON BIG DEEP BREATH! Then in for four, hold for four, out for four, pause for four. Square breathing. Your body cannot panic if you are getting a non-panicking amount of oxygen.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:06 PM on November 14, 2007

Coming off hormonal birth control made me get angry all the time, too. It was particularly noticable at work, where I never used to get angry. This went away after a few months.
posted by wyzewoman at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2007

I can't offer any help in the emotional control aspect, because my issue is somewhat of the opposite of yours -- I get accused of having a Spock-like detachment from my emotions, especially in a work setting.

I can offer you some insight related to this bit:
I feel like when I bring stuff like being left out of meetings up, that I have a hard time just sounding pleasant and concerned, but instead accusatory & angry. I don't want people to start viewing me as a jerk or someone you have to walk on eggshells around. I also want to change my image from being a complacent slacker to being someone who is promotable (rather than someone who's too crazy & emotional to deal with people).
I supervise a number of people and an approach that I find effective from my staff is when they come to me and say that they have a genuine interest in improving themselves and being better positioned for the next promotion. They ask me what skills they need to work on and for advice on assignments to seek and talents to develop or attributes to improve. This offers me a good avenue to have a candid discussion with them about their strengths and weaknesses and enables them to see what I value and what I do not. Sometimes they seem surprised by what I am looking for (which suggests where I am failing as a manager) and sometimes they realize that their self-assessment is at odds with my assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, to the extent that they get me to look at the problem from their perspective, it makes me a coach and advocate for them, which has to be in their long-term interest.

When this approach fails, it is because they are unable or unwilling to do the things I suggest. In one recent case, I advised the person to take a set of three courses at the local community college to build a skill that I knew would be in demand in the next six months and they failed to take even the first course. As you might imagine, their prospects are not brighter in my mind at this point. In your specific case, the likelihood of you having an emotional reaction to any conversation of that sort might preclude that approach. A lot depends on your boss. In my case, I'm quite used to emotional reactions during those sorts of conversations, so it doesn't really throw me any more. When I was a newer manager, I had difficulty dealing with emotional reactions. Today, I'm more likely to view it as an indicator that succeeding in the workplace is extremely important to that employee. Of course, it is one thing to have emotional control issues when discussing negative performance review metrics and quite another when you are rude and snippy to coworkers, which you quite correctly identify as a problem.

I wish you the best of luck at getting your emotions under control, I suspect you are in a kind of feedback loop where your resentment at missing out of the promotion led to emotional reactions, which makes you feel more out of control and leads to more emotional reactions ad infinitum.
posted by Lame_username at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2007 [7 favorites]

I had a day like that last week (and so, my sympathies to you for having a string of them). I was really afraid that the next day I was going to blow up and quit. But it ended up being fine, and my feelings diffused. Here's what I did; maybe it'll help you:

After work I went for a long drive and spent the whole time thinking about how I wanted to proceed, and sorted out all of the conflicting feelings (wanting to quit, wanting to tell off my boss, wanting to act pissy at work so that my boss would know he had really upset me, not wanting to quit, wanting my boss to just treat me better, wanting to be the kind of worker that reacts with grace and confidence, etc.). It took a long time, but eventually I thoroughly convinced myself that I only had one recourse, and that was to go back to work and not let the bad stuff get to me. I think that this convincing of myself was really important, because I could draw motivation from it later.

The next day, on the way to work, I rehearsed all of the anger-triggers I could reasonably expect to happen that day. I told myself to expect all of them, and I reviewed what my appropriate reaction would be. I also spent time finding ways to cast these angering events in a more understanding light (my boss criticizes me unnecessarily when he is worried about something important, not because he's a jerk).

When I got to work (with much trepidation), everything went really well. The anger-triggers happened, my boss criticized me unnecessarily, and I stayed calm. Not just outwardly, but inside, too. I was totally prepared for all of that stuff, so I wasn't so much reacting (being triggered) as I was just recognizing cues and saying my lines. It was a really smooth day, even though the same things happened that do on any other day.

Since this is going on for you at home and work, you may have to add in some extra time between them to get calm and prepared. Taking a walk after work before getting in the car to drive home might help, as might stopping at the gym (if you have one). Until things even out for you, I'd simplify as much as possible -- try to just deal with work and home, and skip whatever else might add stress, like stopping at the market or checking email before bed.
posted by xo at 2:32 PM on November 14, 2007 [6 favorites]

Acupuncture can help you learn to breathe properly and can reduce stress, leaving you more able to deal with unexpected twists and turns. It has helped a great many people.

It sounds like coming off of the antidepressants had quite a negative impact. Please ensure that you are doing this under medical supervision.
posted by ms.v. at 2:36 PM on November 14, 2007

Want a book recommendation?

I can personally vouch for this book: Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work. It totally helped me deal with getting overly emotional at work.
posted by paddingtonb at 2:51 PM on November 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

I was just about to recommend "Working With You is Killing Me". It's great!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:10 PM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thank you guys, so much, for your responses. I am actually about to go on a short vacation and when I get back I am going to pick up a copy of that book - from the reviews I just read, it seems like a very worthwhile read.

I also really appreciate the personal anecdotes, both from an employee standpoint, and a manager standpoint.

For those of you referring me back to my dr, I still see both my therapist and psychiatrist regularly. We have all agreed that at this point there is no need for me to go back on any medication except the one I am still taking (Wellbutrin). I've gone through the withdrawal from SSRI's and it was rough, and I'm not playing that game again.

I'm definitely interested in hearing from anyone else who might have thoughts or advice.
posted by catfood at 3:17 PM on November 14, 2007

As stated above, if you're staying in place for whatever reasons, do try for a walk at lunch time. I walk at lunch time every day, rain or shine and it really does help me blow off steam and refocus for the rest of my day.
posted by Lynsey at 3:58 PM on November 14, 2007

What this sounds like is a typical adjustment to the abrupt discontinuation of a variety of things that futz with your brain chemistry.

Having been through similar things, you need to start taking time for yourself. You're basically a walking trigger. You need to calm the fuck down in all areas of your life.

Try the walking idea; consider taking some time out at the end of each day to do something mindful and soothing. Perhaps a cup of tea with a candle and a good book? Sounds trite, I know, but I find that during times of emotional stress, conciously taking some time out in a quiet space to just think my thoughts and relax can work wonders.
posted by ysabet at 4:04 PM on November 14, 2007

fwiw, wellbutrin made me feel exactly the way you describe. i was taking it as zyban, to quit smoking, but it caused so much anxiety and irritability that i had to stop taking it. maybe one of your ssri's was offsetting that aspect of the wellbutrin, and now that you're not taking it, it's starting to rear its ugly head. talk to your psychiatrist about it--s/he might alter your dose.

i've also found st. john's wort to help with anxiety. i would check with your psychiatrist before taking it--i don't know if it interacts with wellbutrin or not.

seconding the vacation. great idea.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:31 PM on November 14, 2007

What Would Aristotle Do?
posted by Rykey at 5:48 PM on November 14, 2007

I spent my spring and summer in much the same state you describe. It sucked out loud. Good boss left, recently-arrived and not-as-experienced colleague promoted, me feeling left out and left behind and underappreciated. I was angry and emotional with the dept head, so close to tears that I'm blushing just remembering it. Then a couple months into looking (but not applying) for other jobs and getting my resume in order, I discovered something-- I didn't want to leave. I like my work, I like the team I work with, and I'm good at what I do. I took a cool-headed look at the job my now-superior colleague had been promoted to and realized that I didn't want a job like that. So (without really plotting out the course ahead of time, honestly) I poured a lot of energy and creativity into a product that makes me proud and has brought me the kind of attention that crying never would have. If this is a job you like, take control of yourself by focusing on the tasks at hand. Try to find pleasure in your work, look to yourself for approval and keep clear of the ever-shifting power struggle above you. Have a great vacation and come back strong and calm.
posted by eve harrington at 7:00 PM on November 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

Have you gone off the antidepressants and the pill at roughly the same time? It might have been easier to deal with if you staggered them, only dropping the second when you'd come to grips with being without the first. I am so absolutely not a psychiatrist or a doctor of any ilk so I'm not recommending you go back on one of them, but it's a thought.
posted by juv3nal at 8:04 PM on November 14, 2007

I have a hard time dealing with people who are angry and confrontational in the workplace. I really believe in professionalism. That being said, I know how personally people take careers now. Until recently, I was treating my job like it was my whole life and all that mattered. I thought I loved my field, but after leaving and getting a really stable job that just requires me to work quietly, I find myself happy.

If your work is hurting you, maybe it's time to take a break and get a new perspective on what your job means. You may never get promoted or move ahead. You aren't on a professional track if getting promoted is based purely on subjective decisions, like who the boss likes better.

So maybe get a job that doesn't require you to be dedicated to it? Something that pays the bills and doesn't take up your emotional space?

I'm just guessing here. I'm probably totally off and maybe I'm misunderstanding you.
posted by onepapertiger at 9:47 PM on November 14, 2007

Much if not all of what's discussed above will work, but some of it might take a really long time, e.g., meditation, and much of it will only treat symptoms rather than addressing the problem.

Someone close to me has bipolar disorder and it took me three years to get her to take medication for it--she's a nurse so she "knew" she didn't need it. That too just treated the symptoms--it was far short of fixing the problem, and it did nothing to help me deal with it.

Last spring I started to use the Holosync CDs from They apparently force neural changes that raise your tolerance threshold, which you could eventually accomplish through meditation--maybe four hours per day for a few years. The CDs put you into an immediate alpha (and then theta and delta) state so you can bypass the long-term approach and start getting immediate results.

You can get their first CD for free at their website. I had her listen to it and then she listened to the first one I bought afterwards on a fairly regular basis. I don't know how much of her change was from that and how much was from reduced hormones from advancing menopause, but she's not the same woman today. I think if she would continue regularly she eventually wouldn't need the medication.

More importantly to me is that I'm largely unaffected by much of anything that previously upset me. The little things that still do don't generate much emotion--just a momentary private comment--and even those are diminishing. I highly recommend the CDs.
posted by jke310 at 11:30 AM on November 15, 2007

My experience with up-and-down emotions is huge! What helps me is a combination of watching what I eat (seriously!) and exercise.

Honestly, I found the change in my diet to be a HUGE moderator on my moods. I went from high-fat, high-carb foods to much more healthier fare and noticed a dramatic mood difference in around a week or two. Most of my hormonal stuff just seemed to "smooth out" a lot, even though nothing had changed at work.

Exercise only made this better. I prefer exercising in the mornings so by the time I get to work I usually feel almost "high" from the exercise! Who knew?!?! I certainly didn't.

I don't know what your habits are in these respects but I'd recommend it, from my own experiences.
posted by ollyoop at 1:42 PM on November 15, 2007

klonopin helps me. I only take it when I need it and I find it very effective with no "hangovers".
posted by r80o at 2:36 PM on November 15, 2007

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