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Don’t bottle it up: How to express emotions at work

October 14, 2022 - 13 min read

frustrated-businesswoman-on-desk-expressing-emotions

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Reasons to express emotions at work

How to get better at expressing emotions

How do emotions work?

Bottling your emotions hurts your wellness

It’s okay to express your emotions

You did it. You held it in all day — even after your boss asked you for one thing too many, your coworker was rude to you at lunch, and you realized you forgot to pack your snack. After a long commute home, you can finally go for an evening walk and rant to your roommate, partner, or pet.

Feels good, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that.

Humans evolved to be emotional creatures. Over thousands of years, we learned to use everything from tears to smiles to communicate with our tribe. It’s since become ingrained in our DNA — so much so that failing to express our emotions can actually harm our health.

But you shouldn’t have to wait until you get home to express your range of emotions. Sharing your feelings at work can help you connect with your colleagues and improve your overall experience in the workplace.

You might fear rocking the boat, being labeled as difficult, or appearing unprofessional. But it’s possible to express your feelings professionally. And if you communicate clearly and consistently, you won’t have to bottle yourself up until you explode at the end of the day.

With this guide, you can learn to express your emotions healthily and productively — and doing so can have surprising health benefits.

 

Reasons to express emotions at work

If you feel reluctant about being more expressive at work, remember that sharing different emotions is an asset rather than a hindrance. Consider these benefits:

1. It improves your empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, making it a vital component of emotional intelligence. Learning to interpret and connect with other people’s basic emotions will make you a more effective communicator and improve your interpersonal relationships.

As a manager, if your employee is upset due to the loss of a family member, you can help them grieve by sharing a story of your own. You can also give them a day (or week) off to compose, so they can come back stronger the next day. This person will reward your kindness with better performance in the long run.

2. It can reduce stress

We get it. You have enough to do already, let alone make time for the examination and expression of emotions. But chronic stress, if left untreated, will come to bite you. Not only will it make you irritable and tired in the short term, but it can also lead to long-term mental health disorders like anxiety and depression

Expressing your emotions offers relief from your day-to-day stressors. It can also help you find support at work. Your boss may not know you’re feeling overwhelmed — but if you tell them, they can help make daily life a bit easier.

3. It will help you make better decisions

Ever heard of rage quitting? This usually happens when a worker’s emotions have been neglected for too long. Beneath the surface, their frustration and discontentment simmer until it boils into a seemingly impulsive and irrational decision: quitting their job.

This kind of ill-conceived problem-solving can be avoided if you share your feelings more constructively There are professional ways of expressing your anger to your boss and colleagues.

4. It will help others understand you

Nobody is a mind reader — they won’t know how you feel unless you tell them. Expressing your emotions in a healthy way will help others know where you’re coming from.

If you’re having a particularly hard day and you mention it to a colleague, they may step up to give you a hand. Then you can return the favor when the situation is reversed. This process will help you form healthier relationships at work.

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How to get better at expressing emotions

Expressing your emotions can be intimidating at first. But with time, patience, and practice, it will get easier. As you work toward opening up to your colleagues, consider these tips:

1. Take a deep breath

Expressing emotions can be stressful. If you’re setting a boundary with a worker for the first time or expressing displeasure with an underperforming employee, you might feel a rush of emotions. 

Deep, mindful breathing can ground you in these situations. Before expressing a feeling, take a moment to connect with yourself to clarify what’s bothering you and why. This will help ground you before making any decisions.

woman-taking-a-breath-while-working-expressing-emotions

2. Identify and accept your emotions

Emotions are inescapable, so there’s no use pretending they don’t exist. You feel how you feel — no more, no less. 

Mindfulness practices like journaling and meditation can help you identify your emotions and accept them. This means acknowledging their presence, naming them, and examining them as external objects. 

This can help separate your emotions from any additional feelings of shame or guilt you have about them. You’re not a bad person for feeling angry; your anger merely exists. What matters now is how you act on it.

3. Practice

Emotional expression requires precision and control, which both take time to develop. You have to learn the right words to express your feelings, communicate them respectfully, and avoid digressing into a flood of emotion.

If you’re not well-practiced, what starts as a healthy confrontation with a colleague can quickly escalate to a shouting match, which can end with you saying something you will regret.

angry-manager-with-employee-expressing-emotions

But you can prevent embarrassing emotional outbursts by practicing healthy emotional expression. Start by sharing with someone you trust completely, such as a spouse, family member, or close friend — someone not involved in your work life. They can be patient and help you find the right words. 

Or, if you’re not comfortable with that, you can work with a mental health professional. Psychotherapy can help you overcome your barriers to emotional communication. And as you become more practiced, you will be better equipped to share and regulate your emotions at work.

How do emotions work?

Controlling negative emotions is no easy task. But if you understand how they work, you can learn to break the cycle before you spiral. During an emotional episode, you’ll likely experience these three things:

  • Physiological response. Your body will react involuntarily to a situation. For example, you might start breathing heavily and sweating if you’re feeling nervous about a presentation.
  • Cognitive response. Your brain will also evaluate your situation, consciously or unconsciously, which in turn influences your subjective experience of it. If you’ve previously fumbled during a presentation, your brain might trigger fear of your next one.
  • Behavioral response. Your physiological and cognitive response will translate into some kind of behavior. In the context of a presentation, you might project insecurity through closed body language, nervous facial expressions, and a shaky tone of voice.

With mindfulness and self-awareness, you can identify these responses as they occur. This will allow you to interrupt them before they become a problem. If you notice your hands trembling, take a deep breath and try to calm your body.

stressed-businessman-while-working-expressing-emotions

If you notice your mind swirling with negative thoughts, you can consciously practice more positive thinking — encouraging positive feelings and positive emotions.

Bottling your emotions hurts your wellness

Failing to properly express feelings will hurt your health in the long run. Here are some of the potential consequences:

  • Mental health disorders. If you don’t release your emotions, you’re more likely to ruminate on them. This can lead to disorders like depression and anxiety.

tired-businesswoman-against-a-wall-expressing-emotions

It’s okay to express your emotions

Holding in your negative feelings until you get home for fear of lashing out at your coworkers is tempting. And in most cases, that’s the right thing to do — it’s good to cool down before doing something you’ll regret. But over time it erodes your emotional health.

After recalibrating, your next step should be to examine your emotions, identify what triggered them, and see what you can do to rectify the situation. If a colleague crosses a boundary, expressing your displeasure can help them understand why their behavior was wrong. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, telling your boss helps them support you.

And if you never express emotions at work, you risk serious health consequences. It’ll increase your stress levels, hurt your emotional well-being, and can even lower your immune system. And over time, it can lead to irrational decision-making and embarrassing emotional outbursts.

Thankfully, with patience and practice, you can learn to communicate your feelings productively. Step back, accept your emotions, and practice with someone you trust. Practice will lead to better emotional intelligence and more authentic connections with your colleagues — which are priceless.

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Published October 14, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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