I have been thoroughly reminded recently that a job is a service — one that that somebody else doesn’t want to, doesn't have time to, or doesn’t have the skill to do themselves — that you provide in exchange for money.
Read: Sometimes, a job is a JOBBBBBB.
It’s doing something in exchange for money. And occasionally, that something is a real pain in the rear. Because if it wasn’t, you probably wouldn’t need financial motivation to get it done.
Listen, I am fortunate to have a creatively stimulating, relatively enjoyable job. And I am still learning things, which is critical. I’ve always said that the day I feel like I’m no longer learning anything, it’s time to start reconsidering my position.
I have a fun job. (Mostly.)
I love my coworkers. (Except when I don’t.)
I don’t want to throat-punch somebody every hour. (Typically.)
When those times come when I do find myself wanting to strangle and/or curse out a fellow employee — and oh, my sweet innocent flower, those times will DEFINITELY come — I rely on a few tried-and-true methods to get me through the day.
Handy tips to keep me from putting my hands on someone’s jugular, if you will. (Was that too much?)
How to calm down when work makes you angry:
Consider these calming techniques next time you feel your inner Hulk burgeoning.
1.) Go for a walk.
This is my #1 go-to habit when it all just gets to be too much. Actually, a walk is my answer to most problems in my life. No inspiration? Walk. Feel bloated? Walk. Want to punch an account manager? Walk!
I’m lucky because my office building is located right in the heart of historic downtown Charleston, meaning a simple walk around the block offers endless waterfronts, trees, houses and graveyards to explore. (You heard me. I love graveyards, and Charleston has some AMAZING AND CREEPY ones. Check out my Instagram for proof.) It’s also well-populated and safe for me to walk alone.
It wasn’t always that way for me, though. I previously worked in a different city in an area that was more suburban and spread out. It wasn’t a great idea to go walk alone, unless I took my car across the highway to the beach or the shopping district. There was a neighborhood behind the office, and I would make my work wife walk with me for safety reasons, and also for gossip reasons.
Everyone needs a work wife.
So, if you’re in a city or area where it’s safe to be out and about alone, pop down the block and get some blood flowing. It’s the perfect escape that lets you see that yepppp, a whole wide world exists outside this little drama I have going on inside.
“But I’m an important trauma surgeon with lives to save!”
Ah. Well. There are things you can do too. Also, why are you reading this blog? You’re too cool for me probably. I’ve never saved any lives. (Actually, that’s a lie, according to the tadpoles we scooped up and raised in an aquarium. They might have been eaten by a snake! Maybe!)
For those that don’t have the walk outside option:
Pace your building.
I used to, when I was in the more suburban area. I’d walk up one set of stairs, across the upstairs hallway, down another set of stairs, around the perimeter of the building, and back inside a different doorway. Then I’d do it again.
Or I don’t know, maybe there’s a stairwell you can hide in for a minute. Changing your setting can make ALL the difference in the world.
Also, Srini at Harvard says movement has a significant impact on emotional and mental health. And honestly, who are we to question Srini?
2.) Move it or lose it.
One of the best stress relievers for me is to have a dance party.
You may be thinking, “Wow that’s dorky and/or only something that happens in a romantic comedy.” And you’d be wrong.
Maybe you are more “normal” than I am, and have “never burst into song and dance like life is just a big production of A Chorus Line because that’s not what normal people do.”
And that’s fine.
But even if you didn’t come out of the womb doing eye-high Rockette kicks, you can benefit from this, too.
RELATED READ: 8 Things Show Business Taught Me About Money
Close your door, plug in your headphones, and LET IT GO.
I have an entire playlist dedicated to these critical times:
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of a door that actually closes.
I definitely haven’t always had that option (but now that I have a door, there is noooooooo going back for me. Sorry, open-concept workspaces. You can go shave your back now.)
Can you hide in the bathroom for 3 minutes and dance? Can you do it in your car without others seeing? Get creative! Find a broom closet! (Don’t do that.)
There’s a boatload of research on dance movement as therapy, but even in the short-term, a few minutes of dancing can release muscle tension, re-calibrate our mind and help us chill the heck out. There are official “meditative benefits of rhythmic movement,” but I think my assessment of “helps us chill the heck out” seems pretty legit.
3.) Stretch it out.
Even if you are in cubicle land, there are some discreet stretches you can do.
And if you can’t do them at your desk, there’s usually a back corner somewhere in the building where you can do a plank without being seen and/or being up to your literal elbows in germs. I’ve done shoulder stretches in bathroom stalls more times than I can count. You’d be AMAZED how much tension builds up in our upper backs.
shoulder shrugs up and down
tricep stretches (elbow bent behind your head and pull gently)
shoulder stretch (hands flat on wall, walk your body back to 90 degrees, try not to scream)
It’s a game changer. “Sitting is the new smoking,” as they say, so get up and get moving as frequently as you can without totally freaking people out.
4.) Blast your favorite playlist.
Even if you don’t want to dance to it, music can be transformative.
Using music to shift a mood is a well documented area of study that goes back several decades, but it also seems like common sense. Putting on a feel-good song can lift your spirits; listening to a sad song can be cathartic and validate feelings of frustration. Either way, using music as a tool to affect your mood is a tried-and-true way to overcome anger in the workplace.
5.) Take 10 deep breaths.
I used to have a bit of asthma as a kid, and my dad used to force me to do breathing exercises with him. And by “force me” I just mean he required that I stop talking for literally 10 seconds, which was ~*challenging*~ for me at age 6, and felt quite forced indeed.
It sounds silly and juvenile, but closing your eyes and taking 10 of your deepest, most intentional breaths can help avoid a blow-up. Deep breaths can help control your heart rate, keep you from hyperventilating and make you seem like a cool yoga chick. Plus, it’s probably the least time-consuming of all the tips in this list and can be done whether you work in an office, in a retail space, at a restaurant, etc.
6.) Let it out honey. Put it in the book.
Pen an angry letter.
It’s the muted version of freaking out.
Take an actual piece of paper and an actual pen (in other words, not an email), and let it flow.
Oh, you don’t keep two notebooks, four legal pads and 98,000 sticky notes within reach at all times? Just me? Can’t beat it. More on why I think paper vs. digital is better for this scenario in a bit.
Even if you’re not an avid writer/journal-er like me, there’s value in articulating your feelings in a way that makes sense when it’s spelled out. Plus, it’s kinda fun to stumble upon the letter later and giggle at how stupid it was. That’s assuming you didn’t aggressively and dramatically crumple the note and throw it in the trash can, of course. Or get caught. I don’t think your father, the inventor of Toaster Strudel, would be too pleased to hear about that.
7.) Make a detailed plan.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to deflect anger is to throw yourself into another topic entirely. For example, whenever I’m about to snap at work, I’ll bust out my Handy Dandy Notebook and start planning a very specific, detailed plan of what I’d do and bring on a dream vacation. What I’d do with my day from start to finish if I weren’t at my job. What I’m going to do in real life this weekend. Of course, if you’re not in a position where you can take notes, you can make a mental checklist .
Having something to look forward to outside of work — even if you make it up — can put things in perspective and spark a little bit of joy.
Or at least remind you that you need your paycheck and probably shouldn’t kill anyone.
What you should NOT do while you’re steaming from the ears:
When I’m annoyed with whatever is going on on my computer (a rude email, a needy instant work message), it’s often my instinct to grab my phone and start scrolling on Instagram like the good little millennial that I am.
But that’s not a good plan.
If you work in an office setting or in front of a computer for most of the day, I am wary of suggesting anything having to do with a screen.
This seems like a bad idea for several reasons:
First of all, more screen time? Really?! I’m already probably going to go blind or die or something because of it. I’m just waiting on the report to come out that says we’re officially doomed and that our phones are killing us (and not just on the inside!)
You’re more like to shop online.
Listen, I’m not a die-hard frugal blogger here to tell you that impulse shopping or retail therapy never work, because sometimes, honestly, they do. Of course I know THINGS won’t cause long-term happiness, but buying that champagne flute when a boy broke my heart sure did make me feel better for a little bit. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had your heart broken, but it’s a feeling I was happy to put off for a second. Anyway.
Back to the screen thing. Shopping to distract yourself when you’re angry is DANGEROUS because emotional triggers for spending money are very real. I found that out when we did a No-Spend Challenge here at our house. It’s just a bad habit to slip into.
RELATED READ: What is a "No-Spend Challenge" (And Why I'm Doing It)?
What do you do to calm down at work? What’s your go-to when you’re upset? Let me know in the comments below!