Breakdown

Professional men and women generally understand that it’s not advisable to get emotional at work. Of course, that feat is much easier said than done. Human beings are emotional creatures. Emotions set us apart from other members of the animal kingdom. Asking us to turn off our emotions 40+ hours out of each week is like asking a cow not to chew cud. It’s unnatural.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve failed at keeping my emotions in check at work. The positive emotions – joy, excitement – are never an issue, of course. Those who’ve worked with me will happily praise my “bubbly” demeanor. But the negative emotions – anger, sadness, resentment – are the killers. These are the feelings we’re supposed to suppress until the work day is over. But… that’s a lot to ask of a human being, don’t you think? So here’s the question I’d like to raise in this post: have you ever had an emotional breakdown at work?

My first work-related emotional breakdown happened circa 2006, when I was a paralegal at a large law firm. I needed a filing to go out via UPS (or was it FedEx?), but finished it so close to the deadline that I had to drive the package to the shipping hub at the Atlanta airport. I reached the hub less than a minute after it closed. Frantic, I started pounding on the door, crying and begging the poor UPS/FedEx staff members to take my package. In this situation, my emotional breakdown worked. An annoyed employee opened the door, took my package, and abruptly slammed the door shut without saying a word to me.

There have been other emotional breakdowns, both in and outside of the office, since then. Thankfully, most of them occurred in private, either behind the closed door of my office space or in the stall of an unoccupied restroom. But I’ve had a few breakdowns in front of people, too. These were not my finest moments. My most recent breakdown occurred in front of my new business partner – you may recall from my first post that he’s a retired NFL legend. I’m convinced there’s nobody worse in front of whom to lose your cool than an NFL player. He’s accustomed to a “work environment” where his “co-workers” regularly told him they wanted to crack his skull or break his legs; I come from the corporate world, where it’s almost unacceptable to point out a mistake in someone’s work product. The first and only time I cried in front of my pro-athlete business partner, my brain kept screaming at me to MAN UP.

When my brain realized that my heart was taking the wheel, did I “man up” or let myself fall to pieces? In the situation with my business partner, I did neither. I extracted myself from the situation and hid in the bathroom until I felt my brain start to regain control. I had to do that twice during that meeting. It worked each time.

Another tactic I’ve deployed when having a breakdown at work is forcing myself to lose it in front of people who respect and care about me. In BigLaw, it seemed that the inability to control one’s emotions signaled inherent weakness in an attorney. So very few attorneys felt comfortable crying at work – those who did usually left the firm within a few months. I did everything I could to control my emotions while I was working at big law firms, but there were a few instances where I had to let go. In one memorable moment, I went to a co-worker’s office and had my breakdown there. He was able to talk and rationalize through my fog of emotions, and the moment passed almost as quickly as it came.

A few other options for dealing with in-office breakdowns:  Go for a walk. Meditate or pray. Turn on some music. Do push-ups. Doodle or color. Basically, direct your energy toward something else. OR… just live in the moment, cry or rage as needed, and let the feelings pass naturally. There’s nothing wrong with taking that course of action.

I’ll conclude this post by taking that statement one step further and saying this: it’s okay to have emotions, it’s okay to feel them at work, and it’s okay if your emotions occasionally show themselves at work. Anyone who says she’s never had an emotional breakdown at work is full of it. That boss who suddenly went ballistic on you for no apparent reason? He was having an emotional breakdown, probably over something that had nothing to do with you or your work. You’ll be a better employee, colleague, manager, business owner, etc. if you’re able to recognize your emotional breakdowns and deal with them effectively.

A few resources that can help when the breakdowns hit:

 

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