What to Do if You ‘Lose It’ at Work

man in business suit crying

It’s no wonder that work stresses so many of us out. Americans work longer hours with less vacation time than anyone in the developed world. This can make it difficult to balance work life with family life, friendships, and your own emotional and physical self-care.

For some of us, this stress can take a real toll on our performance at work, and when stress reaches a breaking point, some of us are apt to “lose it” — perhaps lashing out at colleagues, acting unreasonably, or losing our tempers.

While this behavior is regrettable, it is important to have some self-compassion. Many times, people “lose it” at work because of factors that are beyond their control, explains says Talkspace therapist Jill Daino, LCSW from New York.

“Being under unreasonable stress over a period time — working long hours, rushed deadlines, changing expectations, a verbally demeaning boss, someone else getting credit for your work — are just some examples of an environment that can lead to someone losing it,” says Daino.

When you combine a stressful environment like that with stresses from your personal life, this is when things can get out of hand, and your emotions are more likely to boil over and affect others, Daino explains.

What To Do After You’ve “Lost It” At Work

The good news is there are things you can do to do repair the damage after you’ve lost your cool at work. And you might find that with a little effort, your work relationship will actually become stronger in the end. We caught up with a few Talkspace therapists to discuss some possible strategies.

1. Acknowledge your mistake, and then move on.

After a “cooling off” period, it’s important to try to find a way to apologize to those impacted by your behavior. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but in the end, it will make everyone involved feel a lot better, and be able to work together more cohesively.

Talkspace Therapist Christine Tolman, LPC from Connecticut and Idaho, recommends a clear, concise apology, but doesn’t recommend you dwell too heavily on the event.

“Acknowledge that you have done something wrong, apologize as appropriate, and let it go,” she suggests. “You don’t have to hang on to every wrong you have done. If you have sincerely apologized and made an effort to change your habits so it doesn’t happen again, then move on.”

2. Have a direct and honest discussion with those impacted by your behavior.

Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., an Ohio-based licensed professional clinical counselor and Talkspace Therapist, recommends that you make a point of directly addressing those who you impacted — and doing so as promptly as possible.

“It can be tempting to try to have these conversations via text or email but, if possible, try to arrange a face-to-face meeting for your conversation,” she says. Additionally, O’Neill says that you should be mindful that the person you “lost it” at may have their own “unresolved feelings” about the event. It’s important to accept that, and not try to push their feelings aside.

3. Discuss the work circumstances that have been causing you stress.

Jill Daino suggests an approach that involves a more in-depth conversation with those your behavior impacted. She recommends you “sincerely and professionally express your regret” as a first step. You want to take responsibility for the stress or hurt feelings you caused.

At the same time, says Daino, this might be a chance to discuss the working conditions that have been stressing you out. If possible, she says, use this discussion as an “opportunity to discuss the stressors that led to ‘losing it’ so that you can learn from this experience.” In fact, doing this can be a way for you not only to repair any personal or professional relationships, but find ways for those relationships to grow.

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How To Prevent Yourself From “Losing It” In The First Place

Obviously, you want to do what you can to ensure that you don’t “lose it” at work again. And according to the Talkspace therapists, prevention is key — and this means taking care of your mental and emotional well being before things spiral out of control. Here are some simple ways you can attend to your mental health so that you are less likely to “lose it” at work in the future.

1. Engage in regular self-care.

In order to make “self-care” work, you need to make it a priority in your life, and do it regularly. Self-care can make your emotions less volatile and can feed your soul, which increases your overall happiness and well-being.

“Take regular breaks, eat healthy foods, exercise if you can. Meditate at your desk. Take a walk at lunch,” suggests Christine Tolman.

2. Take three slow deep breaths.

It sounds like a cliché at this point to tell someone to take a deep breath. But there is science behind the fact that deep breathing can mitigate the “fight or flight” hormones that course through your body when angry or on edge.

“Taking 3 slow deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, can slow your pulse enough to allow you to take control of your emotions,” explains Tolman.

3. Take a step back, and remove yourself from the situation if possible.

Another option during the heat of the moment is simply to take a step back when you find yourself starting to “lose it” — maybe even a literal step out of the room.

Jill Daino recommends counting to 10 before you speak, and taking a deep breath during this pause. Then, if it’s possible, excuse yourself to the bathroom or another room — perhaps with a trusted friend who can listen to your concerns. This “break” can help tremendously.

“The goal is to create a pause for you to mentally gather yourself so that instead of ‘losing it’ you can handle the situation in a more effective manner,” Diano says.

4. Practice mindful emotional awareness.

Rachel O’Neill recommend having regular “check-ins” with yourself throughout your work day. By practicing mindfulness, you can ask yourself some key questions, like: “Do you notice any stress within your body? Do you have a headache? Do you appear to be overly tense?”

If the answer to these questions is yes, this might be a cue that you are starting to experience a higher level of stress and that it’s time to take a pause. “This could be a good time to take a brief 2-5 minute break, do some deep breathing exercises, get up and walk around, or remove yourself from the stress-producing event, to the extent possible,” says O’Neill.

None of us wants to “lose it” at work — but it happens — and is more common than you might think. And while “losing it” is never the answer, sometimes it can be used as an opportunity to become more honest with ourselves and others about what is stressing us out — and this can be a positive first step toward real change.

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Wendy Wisner

Contributor