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Frustrated at work? Calm down with these 4 science-based techniques

If you’re feeling frustrated at work (for whatever reason), put it off.

It’s important to remember, as psychiatrist Judith Orloff says that, "Frustration is not the key to any door."

So when you’re frustrated at work, the most important thing to remember is...wait for it...to...wait.

Whatever it is, give it time.

Put off answering that email, message or phone call, and for the love of waking up to good hair and hot coffee, delay reacting. Whenever possible, give yourself at least five minutes to feel your feelings and cool off before you do or say anything. If you need to physically put space between you and the situation, do it. And trust that later you’ll be oh-so-glad you gave yourself some time to think.

Because flying off the handle doesn’t help anyone "handle" anything.

Has losing your temper at work (or anywhere, really) ever gotten you good results? Probably not. Typically, it just makes a bad situation worse, and in a worst-case scenario, it could cost you that promotion, or even your job.

Of course, if holding off on responding to something that has you feeling frustrated was easy, everyone would do it. So make the wait easier on yourself—try the following science-based techniques sure to help you calm your body’s very real (and not particularly pleasant) stress reaction and get some much-needed distance between you and your feelings.

1. Breathe deep.

When faced with full-scale frustration mode, do 5 minutes of deep-breathing to find your calm. Deep breathing, also known as deep belly breathing and deep abdominal breathing, has been scientifically demonstrated to affect both physiological and psychological factors.

And not only does focusing on breath lower heartbeat and blood pressure, (Harvard Health Publishing, 2018), it diverts attention away from thoughts, calming the whole body down in as little as a few minutes.

According to Scientific American, this is because slow, deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve causing the heart rate to decelerate, blood pressure to decrease and muscles to loosen. Even better, when the vagus nerve tells your brain about these changes, it relaxes too, sending a wave of calm back through your body.

So the next time you’re feeling ready to scream and lose your cool, get some air—into your lungs. When you’re first starting out, it helps to use a timer or a guided program like the one you can find in Foundations, at least until you get the hang of things.

Deep breathing meditation has been clinically shown to relax your brain and your body.

@leeminfu via Unsplash

2. Get your thoughts down.

Just the act of getting your thoughts and feelings out of your head makes them less powerful and gives you some space to reflect on whether or not they’re 1) true, and equally importantly, 2) useful. Because even when the frustrated thoughts flitting around your psyche reflect reality, they might not be helpful.

And if thoughts aren't beneficial, you might as well let them languish alone in your Foundations Thought record, far away from your valuable mental real estate.

When you put your frustrations and worries down on paper or type them into a mental wellbeing app, you make room for bigger and better things—a study by the University of Chicago found writing about worries before a big test improved students’ test scores by nearly an entire grade point or approximately 10%.

And wouldn’t you rather be at your best when you explain whatever it is that’s driving you up the wall to your coworker or boss?

If you’re feeling really terrible about whatever’s going on, try physically writing your thoughts down on paper so you can crumple and throw them away. A 2011 study of Spanish high school students found that when negative thoughts were literally trashed, they had less impact. The takeaway: Stressing about privacy? Put your frustrations down on paper and feed them to the shredder.

3. Relax your body (and mind) muscle by muscle.

Start with your body, and your mind will follow. As first described by Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is based on the premise that mental calmness is a natural result of physical relaxation.

In other words, when you release your muscles into a resting state, your body sends the message to your mind that "everything is okay", and it’s okay to wind down. And it really works. In a 2016 study, workers on automobile assembly lines in Malaysia successfully used PMR to reduce self-perceived stress, which is a significant achievement in noisy, high-stress conditions like those of a fast-paced factory environment.

So when you’re feeling peeved, relax your muscles, one by one, starting with your hands.

As you move from muscle group to muscle group until your whole body feels loose, you’ll loosen up your mind and put a damper on any lingering anger and frustration in the process. While you’re learning this technique, you may want to use your Foundations audio guide or this detailed list of muscle groups from the University of Michigan, at least until you’re more familiar with the muscle groups and can remember the correct order.

4. Meditate your way to calm.

Mindfulness meditation can guide you back to calm.  So when you’re ready to rip into a colleague for something they said or did, don’t. Instead, sit down and do a guided meditation. This centuries-old technique hailing from Buddhism continues to capture converts for one very good reason: it works.

Not only is meditation virtually free (the major cost here is time), it's been scientifically tested (and proven effective) in recent years

And mindfulness training can be a boon for better team relations, too. In 2014, members of the New York Knicks NBA team were schooled in mindfulness meditation techniques, "to improve their mental focus". And they were on the right track. A 2018 Study found mindfulness meditation training and practice in the workplace to be linked to a significant reduction in reported burnout and perceived stress.

Mindfulness is also linked to improvements in personal performance, productivity, and cooperation within teams—all things a basketball team (and an employer) would happily welcome into the fray.

Do you feel frustrated at work? What do you do about it? Let us know at foundations@koahealth.com​.