Are You Too Negative? Become a Much Happier Camper at Work by Learning to Handle Anger, Worry and Stress

by Travis Wright on April 8, 2023

By Alexandra Levit

When one of Corporate America’s realities frustrates you, you might want to stamp your foot and scream, “it’s not fair! It doesn’t make any sense! It’s wrong!” Incident after incident convinces you that your managers are a bunch of crazy lunatics and that every personal developmenttime you turn around, someone or something is keeping you from succeeding at work. You quickly develop a bad attitude without considering the consequences.

I fell into this trap at the beginning of my career. I had a clear mental picture of how the business world should operate and considered my company’s inefficiencies to be a personal tragedy. Every time my progress toward my goals was blocked, my resentment grew, and I’m the type of person who wears my emotions on my sleeve. Pretty soon, my managers didn’t want to give me bad news because they were afraid of my reaction. I was probably one of the most capable people in my group at the time, but did I get promoted? No sir. I stayed exactly where I was and watched as co-workers with half my skills moved ahead of me. Eventually, I quit, believing my company was the problem. Two jobs later, I realized that Corporate America is the same everywhere and that the problem was not my job, but my attitude.

Negativity might be a natural reaction to frustration, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right one. Pessimistic people waste a lot of energy being unhappy. They’re unpopular with their colleagues because they suck the life out of everyone around them and their corporate persona suffers because they are perceived as immature. One of my first managers used to say that a bad attitude is like cholera. The person who catches it is vocal in his misery and gives the plague to everyone around him before finally kicking the bucket. Unless you want your career to end prematurely, your strategy must be to kill negativity before it kills you.

Maintaining a positive attitude when faced with de-motivating situations is not easy, but it is under your control. I’m not suggesting that you suppress your bad feelings and walk around smiling when you really want to hurt someone. By learning to banish anger, worry and stress in the workplace, you will genuinely become a happier and more peaceful person.

Managing Anger

Frustrating circumstances often lead to feelings of anger – that’s just human nature. However, it’s in your best interest to refrain from showing anger at work. Even if you have a legitimate cause, this type of negative reaction will never reflect well on you. Whether you display your anger in the form of an irate tirade, a single rude comment or subtle insubordination, failing to control this emotion can result in serious consequences. One friend of mine was fired on the spot when he screamed at his boss for handling a project ineptly. Another was suspended from work after sending a scathing e-mail to a colleague. During the most stressful phase of my career, my anger masked itself as tears. I wasn’t fired or suspended, but I did compromise my credibility and reputation. All it took was one supervisor to perceive me as immature and the next thing I knew, I wasn’t getting the promotion I deserved.

Despite your best efforts, anger may threaten to overflow at times. The key is to manage it so you don’t end up in hot water. In the midst of a heated discussion or situation, try to assess when you’re losing control. Tell the person or people you’re arguing with that you need to take a break and temporarily remove yourself from the situation. Whether you’re right or not is irrelevant. After all, winning the argument won’t mean anything if you lose your temper. A month from now, your point will have been forgotten, but everyone who was within earshot will still remember your inappropriate behavior. Go back to your office or cube and decompress. Make an effort to relax, calm yourself down and adjust your thoughts to erode some of your negativity. Consider ways to re-approach the situation anger-free, and then, catch up with your colleagues to continue the discussion in a civil manner.

Sometimes we need to express our anger physically. This is fine provided you don’t destroy any company property in the process. I suggest taking a time-out and heading outside the building where no one can see you. Wrap an item of clothing around your mouth and scream as loud as you can. It works for me!

Managing Worry

Once upon a time, I spent huge amounts of time worrying about the past and the future. I worried when something bad happened and I worried that something bad was going to happen. Then, one day, I visited my grandmother in the hospital. After we talked a while about my anxiety, my grandmother told me that I was wasting energy because most of the things we worry about never come to pass. I decided to do a little experiment. I went home and wrote down all of the things I was worried about. A month later, I looked at the list and laughed. The worrisome things that had occurred were already just innocuous memories, and most of the other things had never happened. My grandmother was right. I was wrecking my mental and physical health for virtually no reason at all!

You can only control the moment you’re in right now. Since you can’t change the past and you don’t know what the future holds, what’s the use of worrying about them? Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Let’s be content to live the only time we can possibly live: from now until bedtime. Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall.” You’d be surprised how negative energy diminishes when you focus solely on the moment at hand. After all, doesn’t any problem seem surmountable when you look at it from the vantage point of taking one small step at a time? Now don’t get me wrong – you should absolutely prepare for your future as best you can. But once you’ve done everything possible to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome, let go of your anxiety.

One summer, I worried obsessively about landing an agent to represent my new novel. Every day, as I drove home during my lunch break to check the mailbox for agent responses, my blood pressure zoomed into the stratosphere. Several weeks later, I finally recognized that my worry was out of control and consulted my husband, a psychologist. He said that I should consider the worst-case scenario and resign myself to accepting that outcome if necessary. I took his advice and imagined that I couldn’t find an agent and my novel would never be published. Then, I brainstormed ways to improve the situation. This was a hard pill to swallow at first, but I actually felt better once my mind was purged of all the what ifs? Free from worry, I was able to concentrate rationally on new strategies for obtaining an agent.

Just because you refuse to worry about a problem doesn’t mean you are denying its existence. I’m just suggesting you skip the part where you play out a thousand variations of the same drama in your head. As soon as you become aware of a problem, consider the best way to approach the issue rationally. Make a careful decision based on facts, take action, and then consider the matter over and done with.

There are always going to be bumps in the road, and if you think about it, there’s no end to the things you could worry about. Remember, though, that those who break the worry habit live happier, longer lives. From a practical perspective, they’re more productive because they spend time resolving issues rather than fretting over them. They’re also more pleasant to be around because they’re not constantly surrounded by a cloud of negativity. When you consider all of these benefits, why wouldn’t you want to stop worrying?

Managing Stress

The World Health Organization calls job stress a worldwide epidemic. It costs North American companies billions annually – and what does it cost you? During the first few years of my career in Corporate America, I was so stressed out that I came home from work and collapsed on the couch. By the time I woke up, it was almost time to go to bed again and I had missed the whole evening. I was in the doctor’s office so much with aches and pains and coughs and colds that the nurses thought I was a hypochondriac. I cursed my poor health all the time until I signed up for a self-improvement class. Then, I was finally able to put the responsibility where it belonged. There was nothing wrong with my health, but my stress management did need some serious work.

Did you know that people get physically tired because of emotional factors like boredom, frustration and anxiety? True intellectual stimulation, on the other hand, doesn’t exhaust us at all. If you are drained at the end of the day, it’s not because of the mental work you have done, but the way you have done it. The first time I heard this, a light bulb went off. It occurred to me that I could write nonstop for eight hours and run a 5K immediately afterwards, yet after spending a few hours at my corporate job I could barely drag myself to the train station. I now make reducing stress a priority and do not consider a day productive unless I have a substantial amount of energy left at the end of it. Here are some strategies for managing stress on a daily basis:

• Identify what stresses you out and plan to cope with it in advance.
• Work in a comfortable position.
• Schedule frequent, short breaks throughout the day.
• Take time outs to stretch, massage your temples or get a drink of water.
• Join a gym and go during your lunch break.
• Pick your battles: if it’s not worth it, let it go.

There’s also no substitute for leading a balanced life. Even if you love your job, remember that people who work all the time are boring, one-dimensional and ultimately unsatisfied. Careers in the business world are demanding, but don’t let your intellectual, social and spiritual needs slip through the cracks. Do family members or your old college friends live nearby? Visit them. Do you like to read for pleasure? Pick up that classic novel instead of another industry trade magazine. Spend a few hours volunteering on the weekends, because we feel better when we attempt to make our world better. And regardless of your religion, don’t forget to pray. Seriously. Did you know it’s been proven that people who practice some form of religion lead more contented lives? They have faith in a power greater than themselves and their attitude reflects it.

Three years ago, my roommates made fun of me for sleeping more hours than the average two-year-old. Now, my husband has to coax me to bed at midnight. Was my corporate job then any harder then than it is now, causing me to need more sleep? Definitely not. In fact, I’ve climbed the ladder a bit, so my current position is objectively more taxing. I remind myself every day how stress once destroyed my health and well being – and I don’t let it win.

Author’s Bio

Alexandra Levit worked for a Fortune 500 software company and an international public relations firm before starting Inspiration @Work, an independent marketing communications business. She’s the author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World (Career Press 2004; ). This excerpt was reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from THEY DON’T TEACH CORPORATE IN COLLEGE © 2004 Alexandra Levit. Published by Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ. All rights reserved.

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