I was in an office recently (I’m freelance so jump around) and our desks were so close to together that every time I breathed out the person sitting opposite’s fringe lifted up. When you’re in such tight confines you become, for better or worse, intimately familiar with your desk cohorts’ moods, habits, breathing patterns and even smells. This is fine and dandy when you all have reasonable control over your emotions (and personal hygiene), but not so much when one of your desk buds is a huffing puffing ball of barely controlled fury, liable to explode at any minute, leaving bemused casualties picking wrath-flecked shrapnel out of their faces.
When you’re working so closely with others your mood directly affects everyone else, but rage monsters rarely realise this, so consumed are they with anger, anxiety and frustration. In the office in question, the fury machine constantly emitted loud exaggerated sighs and then pounded on their keyboard so hard they broke the letter ‘M’ which provoked such an eye-watering splurge of expletives that children in the Costa across the road started crying.
They’d been asked to change a feature for the fifth time. Yes, this was annoying. Yes, it was frustrating. But they were taking it personally. They were so riled up they were riding a wave of adrenaline – the fight or flight hormone. Their muscles tensed, their heart raced and their blood pressure rocketed. Fight or flight makes you focus on whatever you see as a ‘threat’. It’s designed to help you save yourself from ‘danger’ whether physical (like your boss wielding a sledge hammer) or mental (your boss needing the work NOW). Your rational mind takes a back seat while your threat-seeking mind comes to the fore meaning you’ll see everything in a suspicious light and even totally innocuous stuff will wind you up even more (“WHY WON’T THE KETTLE WORK? I’M GOING TO DESTROY IT.”).
Being around someone in this mood can be very unnerving. People will feel worried about approaching you as they, in turn, feel ‘threatened’ by you. You’re eschewing all contact and so stopping others from working and you’re passing on your bad mood like a virulent strain of flu. People may judge you as being self-involved and uncaring and may also feel resentful because why should you have the monopoly on rage and anger? Everyone else has issues, but they’re controlling the veins in their foreheads adequately – why can’t you? This will breed distrust as they may eventually begin to suspect you can’t cope with your work if you’re like that all the time.
If this sounds like you (and you’ve managed to read this through your misted up eyes of fury) then CHILL OUT. There are loads of relaxation techniques you can employ to calm down and, as you’ll see from our mind maps, once you calm your body down, your mind, emotions and behaviour will follow. They’re all connected.
For example, next time you’re enraged remove yourself from the environment. Go somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes and breathe deeply through your nose with your mouth shut. Rest your hand on your stomach and feel your abdomen rise and fall as your breathe in and out. Do this for as long as you need until you feel physically calmer. Smile as you breathe out (smiling actually makes you feel happier). Your adrenaline levels will drop and your heart rate return to normal. This will start you thinking more rationally which will affect your mood and behaviour.
Another good and oh-so-simple trick to chilling out (for both rage monsters and the people who have to work around them) is just to drop your shoulders. When you’re stressed your shoulders rise without you even noticing so you’re soon hunched over like Rumpelstiltskin. Making the conscious decision to drop them will force you to take notice of your body when it’s the last thing you’re thinking about.
Just take time to breathe, reassess, calm down and take note of your surroundings. Not only will your mind and body be grateful, but your colleagues will be able to creep out from under their desks and stop Bill, the shady man from the 13th floor, from carting you off.