Aurelia Flores: 4 Ways to Keep Your Cool at Work

In a recent post, we discussed how to recover from a mistake at work. But even better is how to prevent one in the first place.

One good way is to ensure you do NOT take any actions – sending an email, having a meeting, confronting a colleague – when emotions are running high.

We all have times when emotions are triggered and we feel strong anger, hurt, frustration, disappointment, stress, etc.

Whatever the emotion is, when in the workplace, it is important that we learn how to appropriately discharge these emotions in ways that will not harm our careers.

Here are some good ways to help you calm down (this also works when disturbed by unruly kids/spouses):

- Engage in any kind of physical activity – go to the gym, walk around the block, walk up and down the stairs, jump rope in your office, do chair yoga in your cubicle, stretch or simply stroll to the water cooler. Do something to get your body moving and blood pumping to allow that adrenaline to dissipate a bit.

- Talk to someone SAFE in a private place. If you can shut your office door, and be assured of a private phone conversation, feel free to call a friend *outside* your immediate situation who will allow you to just vent. But the key words are “safe” and “private.” Make sure the person you’re talking to will listen, not repeat your conversation, and that you are not someplace you will be overheard and misunderstood.

- Scream, cry or yell (again, someplace private). If you can go to the restroom on another floor and vent your frustrations without it getting back to your colleagues, do so. Cars are also good for this – you may want to drive out of the company parking lot – as a private place to cry or yell. You can also go to a coffee shop, a friend’s office, or use a pillow to scream into.

- Sing! This may sound like a strange one, but I was told by a voice coach many years ago that singing releases endorphins in the system that helps to balance your emotions. If you’re really upset, just sing for a while (even the loud, angry songs), and after 15-20 minutes, you’ll feel better. I’ve tried it – it works! This is the best use of a 15-minute break ever – especially if you’re upset. Grab your iPod and go someplace that you can sing away. Remember: singing is always more appropriate (even if considered a bit strange) in the office than lashing out at a boss.

What NOT to do:

- Decide you immediately need to confront the “source” of the problem – the person who offered the insult, started the misunderstanding or took credit for your work

- Send off an inflammatory email railing against a coworker, client or teammate

- Loudly complain to another coworker who might repeat what you said, or in a way that might be overheard by others

- Silently simmer so that you blow up later at friends, family, or coworkers – or worse! Turn this anger inward against yourself

Please don’t misunderstand: it is critically important that you address issues, stand up for yourself and solve problems in the workplace. The important point is to do so after you’ve had some time to reflect, you’re calm, and have gotten some good advice as to how to proceed (ideally from more than one person).

What strategies do you use to cool off if you’re upset at work?

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School.  Her website,, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.

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