A frustrating day at work…what to do

frustrated at work

Ever have those days at work when you just want to scream?

I know I do.

Sometimes its something that happened before work – alarm didn’t work (or the snooze button worked too well), kids weren’t cooperating (“Mom, I can’t find my shoes!” “What do you mean I have to hurry?” “But I’m tiiiiired!”), or something at home goes awry (dishwasher, hairdryer, husband). While we all try to leave this stuff at the door, the emotional fallout from these encounters can follow us around all day.

Sometimes it is something that actually happens at work – a project isn’t going the way we would like, someone won’t make a decision we need to move our work forward, communication between departments has failed once again. We have all learned to control our reactions in these types of situations, but they can add significant stress to the day.

Then there are the times when the frustration is intense. We miss out on an assignment, we have to meet with that one person again (you know who I mean) and they still don’t get it, a decision is made and you know it isn’t right, or worst of all, you miss out on a promotion. Been there, done that.

Most of the time, its the small stuff that gets you. The other day, I was running late because my puppy dog decided to take some extra time with her morning routine. Then, traffic was terrible on the way in because, of all things, the city government had decided to do some tree trimming during the morning commute. I missed breakfast, probably spilled my coffee, and couldn’t find my ID badge to get into the garage at work. This, on top of the fact that my daughter had trouble sleeping the night before which of course means I had trouble sleeping.

By the time I got to work, I was a mess. That’s the day that, for some reason, I couldn’t log onto my computer. Something about profiles and VPNs and overnight updates and such – the very kind and knowledgeable people on our help desk got me back up and running, but not until I was late for a meeting (not their fault – I blame the tree trimmers). The meeting itself was awful. I don’t remember the topic, I don’t even remember who was there. All I know is I came out of the meeting feeling like my head was on fire. I was full of frustration and anger.

So, what to do?

If I continued on this way, the whole day would be ruined and I would only have myself to blame. I’d probably take that anger and frustration home with me and subject my husband, kids and dogs to a mean, ugly wife/mother/food-giver. This, in turn, would likely put them into a bad mood. Which would make me even angrier. Nobody likes angry people. And I don’t ever want to spread ugliness around.

It was at that moment I knew I needed to make a shift.

Here is what I did:

1. Deep breaths. I know this sounds obvious, but it feels so good! So often when we are tense we forget to take full, deep breaths. Sometimes we just need to stop and take a long, slow, deep breath in and then let it out, and the frustration goes out right with it. It’s magical!

2. Stretch. Again, probably obvious. Stretching puts the focus back on ourselves and helps us to relax and let go. If you can, try something outside your comfort zone. Close the door (or find a room and close the door) and stretch out on the floor. Use your desk or chair or bookshelf to do some crazy yoga poses. The point is to really let go. Maybe even laugh at yourself.

3. Vent. One of the most therapeutic techniques for me is venting. As Shrek says in his movie, “Better out than in!” That said, venting can definitely backfire if not used appropriately. Here are some basic rules for proper venting (this could almost be a post of its own!):

(a) don’t vent for very long; make it short and sweet, get it out and move on;

(b) vent to someone at your level in the organization and be sure it is someone you trust. I highly recommend you do not vent to someone above you – they should be used for coaching, not venting. Also, bosses are people of action and may respond to your venting in a way you were not expecting. Absolutely do not vent to someone below you (they will likely take your opinion as that of other leaders of the organization);

(c) be sure you make it very clear that you are just venting; failure to do so can result in some pretty dramatic unintended consequences (for example, a whole new job);

(c) be absolutely certain that you aren’t disclosing confidential information.

4. Change gears. If you are able, take a few minutes to do something you enjoy. It could even be other work stuff! (There are some reports I love to analyze. If I focus on them, my curiosity is triggered and my frustration disappears.) Or kinda work stuff. (Read a page or two from that self-improvement book you’ve been reading. I happen to be reading Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work by Dave Isay right now). Or not work at all. (Find that recipe for tonight’s dinner.) The point is to redirect yourself in a positive direction.

5. Take a walk. In the middle of the workday, this might mean just doing a lap around the floor. This last time, I did tiny laps in my office. But if you can, head outside for a minute. The fresh air can work miracles. The exercise, too, will help you rid yourself of some of the anger. I add in some jumping jacks if I can – for some reason, these in particular always help me to dispel extra energy.

6. Practice Gratitude. You may have heard about this. I believe in it 100%. You just can’t be angry when you are thinking about everything you have to be grateful for in your life.

I recently listened to a podcast where a woman shared her practice of writing a short list every morning and each night. She talked about the significant change this had brought about in her life and in her health. I know that I start off on a happier, lighter foot when I remember to write my list in the morning.

Beyond this, there are other longer-term things we all know we can all do to cut down on our frustration levels. Exercise is at the top of the list. Getting enough sleep and eating right are also right up there. Keeping a journal is a wonderful practice if you can handle the writing/typing. I personally have a couple of them – both guided journals and plain paper journals. Listen to uplifting podcasts – right now my favorites for lifting my spirits include Wild Ideas Worth Living, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, and Good Life Project. I love that they get me thinking about new and different things. Try some meditation – I highly recommend the Headspace app if you are new to the practice. Meditation is exceptionally hard for me, but I still try to do a little bit when I can. Talk it out if the frustration involves others at work. Be brave and have those difficult conversations.

Finally, if things are tougher than all of that, I am hereby giving you permission to take the day off. Some of us need to be given that permission. I am a firm believer in “mental health days,” days where you stay home and get yourself back in the right frame of mind to be productive at work. Slogging through a huge pile of negative energy will likely only make you (and possibly those around you) suffer longer.

I did, finally, get my day back on track, and got quite a bit accomplished. So I know this stuff works! I hope this gives you a few ideas to try the next time work is getting you down.

As always, keep it positive and smile! I’d love to hear what tips you use to deal with frustration at work – please share!

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