5 Methods to Be Mindful & Aware of Emotions at Work

Emotions are tricky… On one hand, they fuel creativity, connection, and passion, but in certain situations, if you lose your ability to stay calm, you might lose your team’s confidence. To become a more thoughtful leader – tolerant of ambiguity and able to resist negative impulses – commit to strengthening your emotional resilience. The goal is not to get rid of emotions or regulate them into nonexistence, but to be mindful and aware of them as they come and go.

First, the Science of Emotion

Regulating your emotions may be an “easier said than done” situation, but it becomes more realistic once you understand the three elements of emotion: physical/physiological, cognitive, and behavioral. 

The physical/physiological element is the body’s reaction to an emotion. For example, that release of adrenaline you may experience is your reaction to fear, stress, or nervousness. The cognitive element is how you evaluate and label your emotions. In other words, it’s your conscious assessment of the experience. Lastly, the behavioral element is the observable actions you take. Pacing, foot tapping, and swaying are all behavioral elements of emotion.

Physical/physiological reactions aren’t always under your control. Studies show we have biological wiring that actually causes us to mirror the emotions of those around us. That’s where the importance of behavior and labeling comes into play as a way to manage your physiology. Re-labeling that rush of adrenaline you felt in front of the group from “stage fright” to “excitement” can increase your confidence and, in turn, your performance. The labels we choose and behaviors we practice after the emotion is felt matter.

5 Ways to Be Mindful & Aware of Your Emotions

1. Identify Your Physical Response
Is your heart racing? Are you shaking? Can you feel yourself getting warm? Emotions trigger your sympathetic nervous system and lead to these symptoms and more. Engage in a breathing exercise to help slow your breath and heart rate. This mindfulness technique can also help keep you centered and grounded. Inhale slowly for five seconds, pause, and then exhale slowly for five seconds. Do this at least five times, and try to not focus on anything else while completing the exercise.

2. Recognize, Label, and Own Your Emotions
Dedicate time to mentally walk through an emotional situation and write down your thoughts and responses. Differentiate between feelings and try to understand what triggered a certain reaction. Acknowledge what you are feeling in that moment and take ownership. The situation didn’t generate your emotions. You did. And you have the power to change them, too!

3. Change Your Thoughts
Although we can’t always change a situation, we can change the way we react to it. This is called cognitive reappraisal. Cognitive reappraisal is the act of reframing a situation in order to change your emotional response to it. Find something positive or beneficial about the current situation to help you view it from a different perspective.

4. Find an Outlet
Find an outlet (or two… or three) to help alleviate the stress that ultimately leads to unbalanced emotional responses at work. Consider implementing a consistent exercise routine, or incorporate meditation into your daily routine. If writing is a therapeutic release for you, writing in a journal each day can help you better process your emotions. Take short, frequent breaks throughout the day to reset your mind and emotions. Take a few laps around the office, visit a co-worker, or step out for lunch.

5. Bonus Method! Get Proper Sleep
To successfully tackle everything on this list, you need to make sleep a priority. Getting a good night’s rest creates a solid foundation on which to build the rest of your strategy for emotional regulation. 

Learn to Balance Your Emotions

Feeling and expressing your emotions is such a strength. By learning to be aware of and balancing those same emotions (at home and in the workplace), you can maintain a more positive influence on and relationship with the people in your life. Remember, this really is a lifelong process, but our emotional complexity is beautiful and makes us who we are.