How to manage your anger and frustration at work

A mental health counsellor shares how to handle your outbursts at work and be a better leader

How to manage your anger and frustration at work

It’s a difficult time to be a leader and it’s okay if things are starting to get to you, professionally or personally. The best way to manage your anger or frustration at work is through some self-awareness and honesty, said Maria Micha, a clinical mental health counsellor, psychiatrist and corporate trainer. If you feel like you’re losing grip of a situation at work, take the time to reflect on your life and the issues you’re handling.

“A lot of us are not aware [of our frustrations],” Micha told HRD. “We go to work and we’re not even aware we’re frustrated. And then a colleague says something or spills our coffee and we’re flying off the handle.”

If you engaged in some self-reflection, you’ll realise that the people you work with are not the root cause of your troubles and should not be at the receiving end of a blowout. They’re at work to collaborate and innovate with their teammates – just like you. If they make mistakes at work, it’s never personal and as a leader, you should consider that they may be having a hard time themselves.

“Try to see them as individuals who have their own issues,” she reminded leaders. This could be a first step to managing your anger at work. The medical practitioner, who has over 20 years of experience working with individuals and corporations and handles cases like anger management, believes the most effective treatment involves identifying the symptoms and root causes. She shared with HRD other simple steps professionals can take to manage their frustrations at work.

Read more: How to deal with frustrated employees

Be conscious of your behaviour and words

Firstly, it’s best to acknowledge that bad days are bound to happen at work. Some days you’re in a meeting and you feel like your team member is being difficult or an issue seems impossible to solve. In this scenario, Micha suggested that the person take a breath and communicate their frustrations with the rest of the team.

“Instead of expressing your anger through angry words and arbitrary sounds, it would be important to just use a vertical voice and express what you’re feeling,” she said. “You can say that you’re at a point where you feel a little bit irritated. Say: ‘I might need a minute or two to get out of the room and I’ll come back’.”

Alternatively, you can openly ask for help. “People are usually very happy to offer help – so long they’re not feeling attacked by whatever the person is feeling,” she said.

Do you best to keep your voice calm and consistent. Your team members and employees will then be more open to help you manage the situation. However, if they feel ‘blamed and shamed’ they’re less likely to be as understanding of what you’re going through.

“I often advise leaders to engage in some form of emotional transparency,” she said. “We have the tendency to see our leaders as these holy people who never lose their cool, who always have the right answers, and that is intimidating. And as a result, we make them godlike, and they're not. And then we cannot expect any behaviour on their part that is not consistent with this godlike figure.

“But also there’s silence – we cannot find our voice to come up with an idea or offer a solution. So level with your team members but do it in a very effective and respectful way when you’re feeling unwell and irritated. We’re humans, so frustration, irritation and anger are [normal] human expressions.”

Read more: Mental health: How to lead by example

Understand where your anger is coming from

Following that, find some time to self-reflect and understand ‘where the frustration is coming from’. From experience, she’s found that anger is typically ‘not the primary emotion’. You could be feeling overwhelmed or out of control. It could even be a case of repressed pain or fear from your personal life.

She ‘strongly recommends’ that leaders reflect on the experience by taking some time out of a workday and doing a relaxing activity. You could go for a walk, a run, or engage in some form of exercise. You could even meditate and surround yourself with some calming sounds like the sounds of nature, for example a waterfall, the wind or crashing waves, to clear your mind and try to decipher the cause of your problems. If the source of the pain is something that runs deeper in your personal life, you might need more professional attention and perspective – but it’s definitely something that must be addressed before you get back to work.

“Try to relieve your frustration from your personal life before you go to work,” she said. “Take five minutes and listen to calming music [before going for the meeting].”

A good technique that she uses herself is to imagine that you’re sitting in a room and holding a red balloon in your hands. Blow all your frustrations into the balloon and then when it feels ‘full’, tie a knot and watch the balloon float out of the window until you no longer see it.

“This technique works for low level frustrations,” she said. “If it is a very high level of frustration, [for instance] if it’s some pain activated from your childhood, it will take a lot more to resolve, but at least the edge is going to be taken away.”

Read more: How to deal with anxiety and depression at work

Self-care: It’s time to prioritise your mental health

Above all else, Micha hopes that the growing awareness around mental wellness will lead us to take better care of ourselves.

“We take care of our bodies, exercise, eat very healthily and clean our houses, but then we don’t take the time to clean our minds and our energy from all the dirt, frustrations and stressors that we’ve had throughout the day,” she said. “It has almost become an everyday thing.”

She highly recommended taking just 10 to 15 minutes a day to ‘cleanse’ yourself – your mind, body and energy – and just ‘push away things that are not loving to you’. This is especially crucial in times when so many things can feel triggering.

“The pandemic has been horrible for humanity – so many people have died,” she said. “It is very difficult to experience this [level of] loss and uncertainty. But if we manage to go beyond all the difficult aspects of the pandemic and focus on what we need to learn and how we need to transform on a mental and emotional level, we can learn from this difficult situation.

“The difficulty will be there, that’s not going to change, but we can learn to be more versatile, empathetic, mentally present, and more aware of other people’s problems and of our own. Start taking care of our minds and our subconscious the same way we take care of our bodies, our children and our homes.”

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