No matter how frustrated you become, it’s almost never in your best interest to act frustrated at work. Try any of these tips to calm your frustration in the moment, so that you can remain professional and in-control.
You won’t always be able to step away from the situation. But when you can take a breather without hurting your work, just a couple minutes can make a world of difference. What does this look like in action?
Make a reasonable excuse: Go to the bathroom, look to restock something on the floor, ask if you can take your break a little early that day. Or, if you’re on the verge of exploding, ask a coworker to step in with this particular customer (“I’m not sure I’m the best person to help you right now. You may find my colleague more helpful. Let me call them over.”)
Ask to revisit the conversation if possible: This likely isn’t an option when dealing with a frustrating customer. But if you’re struggling with your boss or a coworker, consider looping back later: “I feel like this conversation could be going better for both of us. Maybe we will have more success after taking a quick breather?”
More often than not, you have to stay present with whomever has caused your frustration. A customer says something rude but you have to finish the transaction. Your boss singles you out during a team meeting. Even if they’re in the wrong, expressing your frustration in the moment will not help. So what can you do?
Gently summarize what just happened: If you can gently call attention to the situation, without placing blame, you may diffuse some of the tension you feel. This could look like: “I think that we’re having a communication issue, but I trust we will sort it out.” Or, “I am hearing X, and I’m not sure how to feel in response.”
Note that your emotions may be clouding the situation: You don’t have to call out exactly why you’re frustrated. In fact, you may prefer to be a little vague. But if you can’t hide your frustration, you may want to acknowledge it. “I’m not sure why, but I’m feeling a little off at the moment.” Or, “I’m really on edge right now. I hope you can understand, and I still want to be helpful if possible.”
Model self-reflection: Sometimes the other person is being frustrating without realizing it. Instead of calling them out on their behavior, consider making a statement about your own behavior (even if you’re not being quite as problematic). “I wonder if I’m doing something to get in the way of our communication, without realizing.” Your self-reflection may invite the other person to reflect on their own behavior and soothe your frustration.
Release excess nervous energy: Tap your foot, chew gum, fidget with a pen, or find some other subtle outlet for your frustration. Of course, nail-biting and related behaviors may be natural responses to stress, but if you can, try to replace these with less self-destructive fidgeting habits.
Whenever you go home or otherwise get some alone time, take a moment to tend your feelings.
Exercise: Though it’s a physical action, it’s no secret that exercise is a tool for managing emotions. At the end of your work day, prioritize movement in order to reduce stress hormones that keep you stuck in frustration. Even just two minutes of jumping jacks, planking, or dancing can help you let off some steam.
Eat spicy food: Spicy foods containing peppers may help to release feel-good chemicals in your brain and body, counteracting the day’s frustrations. If you’re looking for a burst of stress relief (or maybe, just a distraction from what happened), consider having a spicy post-work meal.
Journal about what happened: Try journaling from the third person perspective, to give yourself a little distance from big emotions. This means writing about what happened as if you were not yourself, but a neutral observer of the situation. When you do this, you may find your frustration calms down automatically, because the frustration feels less personal.
Vent to someone you trust: If they can help validate your perspective, then you may find it easier to stop ruminating about your frustration. As with any kind of weight or burden, frustration feels less heavy when shared.
No matter how you choose to calm your frustration, make sure not to rely on a band-aid solution forever. In the end, you have to feel your feelings and let them out, in order to keep them from harming you.
As always, if you need to vent in the moment, you can always turn to your peers through Supportiv. Anonymity can help you feel safe in the aftermath of frustration, and getting things off your chest helps to relieve stress.