5 Ways to Handle Emotional Distress at Work

Sometimes, life hands you a cool, sparkling glass of lemonade, and you take a big gulp, and realize it’s full of crap.

When this happens, it never seems to do so at a convenient time—that is, when you’re living off a trust fund and can stay home in your pajamas and bawl until you can’t speak, going through a gross of tissue and getting snot all over the remote control.

Noooo.  You still have to go to work.

No matter what happens at home, employers expect you to show up and do your job, and they really don’t care about your emotional baggage.  But how do you keep it together when all around you is falling apart?

#1 – Take a deep breath

When you get emotional, your heart rate increases, and your breathing does too.  Anxiety can cause this as well as emotion.  Take a deep breath in through your nose, and SLOWLY blow it out through your mouth.  Pretend that you are trying to blow out a candle in the corner of the room.  Aim for a slow, steady stream.   Do this a few times and it will calm your physical reactions.

No, hurricane force will not do it.

Image:  Sebastian Danon /www.sxc.hu

#2 – Try to focus on something else

Like, you know, your work.  I know it’s not easy.  All you can think about is what happened, and how miserable you feel.  But really, taking your focus off your feelings and putting them on what you’re doing can provide you with a respite.  People have limits on how bad they can feel before protective mechanisms kick in.

Take it in small chunks.  Tell yourself, “For the next half hour, I’m going to work on this project and think about nothing else.”  Or fifteen minutes, or whatever is easiest at first.  Keep at it.

#3 – Use your support system

If you have a coworker you’re close with, let her know you’re having a hard time.  She can run interference for you if necessary, and dispel rumors.   At the very least, she can offer sympathy.  Work can seem impossible at these times, and it does help to know someone cares.

If you aren’t close with anyone there, a quick text or phone call (on your break) to a friend can help you decompress a bit.  Stay off company email if you don’t want your boss to know the details.  Most companies now monitor it.

The room of secrets…ain’t so secret.

Image:  twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

#4 – Excuse yourself

There may be moments when you realize that, despite your best effort, you’re about to blow.  Either you’re going to start crying, or you’re going to rip out your coworker’s hair and set it on fire.

In that case, it’s time to excuse yourself and go to the bathroom, the break room, or into your office with the door shut (if you happen to be lucky enough to have an office).  It’s fine to say “Please excuse me; I need a minute,” and then vamoose.  If you do lose it, don’t forget to apologize.

#5 – Get your sleep and eat your food

Emotional stress makes it difficult to care for yourself properly.  Top that off with a heavy workload, and you might even become physically ill.  It’s a vicious cycle.

Stick to a regular bedtime schedule as much as you can.  If you can’t sleep, turn on the light and read for a while.   Super bad insomnia?  Visit your doctor.  He/she may be able to prescribe a short-term sleep aid to help.  Use this only as a last resort, because it’s not the best solution.

Feed yourself good nutritious food.  Junk will only make you feel worse.  Don’t skip meals; have some soup if you’re not up to a big sandwich or a full meal.


You can do this.  Being able to get out of the house and focus on your job may actually help.


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