Most of us control ourselves pretty well at work, even when we have rotten bosses and too much stress. We’ve learned that we have to show up with a reasonably good attitude. We keep our heads down, try to get our jobs done, and mind our own business. We don’t lose our tempers, or if we do we try not to let anyone know. Maybe we grouse and complain to a few colleagues, but for the most part we try to ignore the ugliness and just get on with it.
This kind of coping strategy—which by the way is common and rewarded—takes a tremendous amount of energy. Doing this for too long can literally make us sick. And ultimately, it doesn’t work anyway. Why? Because somehow, somewhere, and with someone we need to release the pressure, blow off steam, to get back on an even keel. The emotion has to go somewhere. It’s like the natural law of conservation of energy—you can’t get rid of emotion, it radiates inside of us and is transferred to the people around us.
Most of us don’t let off steam at work. But a lot of us find ways to release and let go—at home and with our friends. We can and do share the destructive emotions that we’ve caught from our bosses and our work with the people closest to us. Why? Because it’s safe—they love us, take our side, and won’t fire us or kick us out if we stomp around for a while. So, we go home, breathe a sigh of relief, and let loose. And it isn’t pretty.
Without intending to we get caught in the ‘kick the dog’ syndrome. Ok, maybe you don’t kick the dog (hope not) but who hasn’t come home after a long, stressful day and blown up about the littlest thing? Maybe the kids have left toys in the doorway, the dishes are in the sink or somebody messed up the TV. Maybe your partner has made plans for a nice evening out together—and you just can’t take it. You’re furious. You can’t believe how inconsiderate he or she is…don’t they know how tired you are? And so it goes.
We bring the poison home. And our loved ones catch it. Whatever balance we might have been able to achieve in personal life begins to fall apart.
Hopefully this isn’t happening to you. But if it is, you are not alone. So what can you do? We’ve been looking at how cultivating certain daily practices to build mindfulness—this can help us to manage the negativity and stress inherent in some of our work lives these days.
You can start by really looking carefully at how you are coping with the pressure. Are you bottling it up—internalizing it? Are you blaming others? Maybe you are taking too many risks or the opposite—shutting people out? We have a great exercise in Becoming a Resonant Leader called My Defensive Routines—it can help you figure out how you are coping. By the way, the book is a start-to-finish guide to intentional change and personal effectiveness—we wrote it to help people build and sustain resonance in life and through their leadership.
Finding out what’s going on with you and how you are responding to the pressures at work is a good start—a good first step toward mindfulness. No one wants to go through life at the mercy of bad bosses and toxic workplaces. And we surely don’t want to wreck our relationships at home by unconsciously passing the toxicity on.
How do you maintain health, wholeness and balance? Do you have tips to share? Practices than help you to stay mindful—awake, aware, and attuned? Let us know!