Your emotional landscape may change a lot in a single workday. As meetings, deadlines, and emails fill your calendar, you may cycle through every feeling from dread to frustration to satisfaction. But research shows that an increasing number of nine-to-fivers are experiencing a stronger, more toxic emotion: anger.
According to a 2022 Gallup poll, 21% of the world’s workers experienced anger on their previous work day. Bearing the weight of this emotion at the office has been linked to hypertension, heart disease, depression, and more. And raging at work harms more than our mental health; it also impedes job performance. Anger may actually impair cognitive processing, zapping worker motivation and productivity.
And yet, it makes perfect sense that so many of us are furious at work, says career strategist Lee Crocket. Everything from microaggressions to co-worker conflicts to job insecurity can make our blood boil. The question is, how do we keep our cool and look after our physical and mental well-being on the clock? Ahead, Crockett and clinical psychologist Sarah Adler, PsyD, shares what to do (and what not to do) when you’re seeing red at work.
1. Understand your triggers
Understanding your triggers, or stimuli that spark emotional reactions, can help you get ahead of your anger, says Crockett. “You know best what gets under your skin,” she says. “Does Jim kick off every team meeting with an offensive joke? Does Susan always try to find a way to make you look unprepared in front of your boss? What most often makes you feel provoked or attacked?”
Identifying these patterns can help you know thyself and understand “the why behind the what,” adds Crockett. For example, maybe Susan’s undermining of your work reminds you of a past job when someone took credit for your work and got promoted. Knowing this will help you have compassion for yourself as these reactions bubble up.
2. Discover your coping mechanisms
Coping mechanisms are little daily adjustments that allow you to diffuse anxiety and anger in the workplace, and everyone can build a unique set. Dr. Adler says mindfulness and breathing exercises are both great options, but you can try a few new techniques, too.
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation: Slowly contract and release each major muscle in your body, focusing on your breath as you do so. This exercise will help calm your nervous system.
- Change your temperature: Going to the bathroom and splashing your face with cold water can help you clear your mind and think more coherently.
- Movement: “Engaging in intense body movement can help calm down the autonomic nervous system, which reacts during moments of intense stress,” says Dr. Adler. “This can be done discreetly, such as moving hands or wrists under a desk, or through bigger movements like arm circles.”
3. Make a game plan before your work day begins
Now, combine your knowledge about your specific triggers and coping mechanisms to make a game plan. “Before you start your day, think about what interactions you may have and with whom,” says Crockett. “Who will you be in meetings with? How can you avoid these situations, or at least be prepared for them so that you’re not caught off guard?”
This exercise will help you anticipate when anger and frustration may crop up so that you can reach for your coping mechanisms.
4. Talk it out instead of bottling it up
“Yelling, screaming, or making rash decisions can exacerbate the situation,” says Dr. Adler. “If you sense anger building up, it’s best to take a moment and not immediately commit to decisions, whether it’s taking on more work or rejecting tasks.” Go back to your coping mechanisms and prioritize your mental health.
That said, managing your anger doesn’t mean you have to stay quiet. Crockett recommends approaching a co-worker or boss and calmly explaining why their actions or words impacted you. “The goal isn’t to receive an apology (although that’s a great bonus), but to allow yourself the release that comes with self-expression. Let your boss know what happened, how you felt, and if you need any support from them to move forward,” she says.
5. Invest in self-care outside of work
When you’ve left the office or closed your laptop for the day, it’s time to prioritize activities that will help you reach equilibrium before everything begins again tomorrow. “Activities like meditation, journaling, and exercising can boost our happy hormones and create a more positive view of our day and our life,” says Crockett. “We become less likely to be consumed by anger when we’re feeling positive vibes.” While you can’t control everything, do your best to make sure that your life outside of work makes you feel anything but anger.