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How to handle negative thoughts and emotions at work [Infographic]

How to handle negative thoughts and emotions at work [Infographic] Blog Feature

Melissa Smith

Web Team Manager / Sr. Front-end Developer, 8+ Years of Web Development Expertise, 2x Recipient of IMPACT's Helpfulness Core Value Award

October 4th, 2020 min read

No matter how much we like our jobs, we all have bad days — especially during crazy times like these. 

It can happen for a lot of reasons — a coworker that's pushing your buttons, a project that's gone sideways, your personal life might be stressing you out, or maybe it's just one of those days, where there's no reason in particular for a sour mood.

Here's the tricky part about situations like that: Emotions tend to run pretty high, which can not only lead to you feeling a ton of stress and anxiety, it can also take a toll on those around you.

(Let's be honest. Those kinds of emotions are typically not easy to hide from your team, so it can seriously affect the mood of your work environment.)

So, what are the best ways to handle tough days and negative emotions at work? And what exercises can we do to make ourselves feel better?

Many of us don’t know how to process these emotions at work in a healthy way so you can still get the work done that you need to get done. You might not be able to prevent those negative thoughts, but there are plenty of ways to deal with them.

It comes down to what's called "emotional agility."

But what is emotional agility? And why is it so important to possess this quality in the workplace? 

Susan David says:

“Emotional agility is a process that enables us to navigate life’s twists and turns with self-acceptance, clear-sightedness, and an open mind. The process isn’t about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts. It’s about holding those emotions and thoughts loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to ignite change in your life.”

The top three key concepts that help to handle these challenging times are:

  • Showing up: To face your thoughts or feelings is a difficult things to do but it is important to facilitate positive changes.
  • Stepping out: Detach from your thoughts and feelings in order to see that they are just emotions.
  • Moving on: Make small and purposeful tweaks to your mindset, instead of dwelling on negative emotions.

Most negative thoughts can be categorized as a type of unhelpful thinking style.

Here are the four common negative thoughts categories:

  • Black and white thinking: Seeing everything as one way or another, without any middle ground.
  • Personalizing: Assuming you are to blame for anything that goes wrong.
  • Filter thinking: Looking at the negative side of a solution only.
  • Catastrophizing: Thinking the worst possible outcome is going to happen.

After reading through these, I can say that I have probably fallen in to every single one these categories within the last couple of months.

I recently moved in to a supervisor role for our development team here at IMPACT, and we have had a busy couple of months. It’s been a real eye-opener for me.

Before, I was only dealing with the client development work of my team, and now I am in charge of making sure all our developers are happy, and that our work for all of our clients are hitting the IMPACT standards -- and also delivering on time.

As I've made this transition to a leadership role, I've learned that being able to productively manage negative emotions and perceived failures is an essential skill for the workplace.

Thankfully, to help, the team at QuickQuid put together a helpful infographic to help process those feelings and come out stronger.


Here is a quick overview of the eight ways to help you improve your emotional agility:

1. Flag negative thoughts and acknowledge that they're not helpful

Try this: Each time you flag a negative thought, repeat this mantra: "This thought is not helpful to my health and happiness, so it can go away."

2. Challenge negative thoughts

Try this: When a negative thought pops up, ask yourself: "Is this thought true? Is this thought important? Is this thought helpful?"

3. Use the situation as motivation to improve

Try this: Whenever you experience disappointment or an undesired outcome, set yourself a new goal and focus your energy on that.

4. Do something active to shift your focus

Try this: Remove yourself from the situation by taking a walk around the office or getting some fresh air.

5. Write about a recent positive experience

Try this: Recall one positive experience you had over the last 24 hours and write about it in details for five minutes.

6. Breathe deeply and wait a few seconds before responding

Try this: When you feel an emotion building, follow this sequence.

  • Step 1: Take a deep breathe.
  • Step 2: Pause and count to 10.
  • Step 3: Consider what you want say and then respond.

(Our COO Chris also wrote a great blog about this very moment -- which he calls "flash to bang" -- and how to handle it effectively.)

7. Practice visualization exercises to calm down

Try this: Focus on the source of your negative. Then, breathe deeply and imagine that you feel calm and stress-free. Use all five senses. What are you smelling, hearing, and feeling as you talk your way into being calm? Describe what it feels like to be calm to yourself.

8. Focus on your strengths

Try this: When you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk take a moment to write down three things you like about yourself.

It's not easy, but you've got this

Take it from me. While the upheaval surrounding my new role has settled down, I know that what's behind me will not be the last time I get stressed at work.

But there's good news for people like you and me -- when it comes to addressing these types of negative, emotional challenges head-on, we're our own secret weapon. All we have to do is focus. 

So, the next time you have a rough day (or week) at work, I challenge you to run through these eight steps on your own. While it may seem a little strange at first -- or heck, you may just want to wallow for a little while, because we're all only human -- trust me, it's worth it.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for diffusing negative emotions at the office?

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