Working from home for a protracted period has left many of us feeling emotionally frayed, stressed and perhaps a little jaded. The months that have passed have been tough. But how might this have affected the people we’re closest to; our families and those we collaborate with regularly through work?
Emotions leak through behaviour, and when they do they can be ‘mirrored’ by those around us resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of synchronised moods. Neuropsychological research into emotional intelligence has shown that we are all wired to respond to and mirror the emotions of those we interact with. This is thanks to our ‘open-loop limbic system’, as coined by eminent psychologist and emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman. Our limbic system, the part of the brain heavily involved in emotion, can ‘lock’ with other limbic systems, creating a flowing channel of positive or negative feeling. Little wonder that things can get a bit tense from time to time when we’re all under so much pressure and stress!
So what can we do, as workers experiencing emotional strain?
1. Be more aware of our own emotional state: If our own emotions are so easily absorbed by those around us, perhaps it would help to be more emotionally aware ourselves. This may involve regulating our emotions or managing them in a considered, productive way. When working in a team, we could try to recognise our emotions and what impact they might be having on others. Because emotions start internally, ‘labelling’ them, or giving them a name, helps us to recognise how we’re feeling. Take a moment once or twice a day to pause and then write down a word that describes how you’re really feeling. If you express a negative emotion, you can now make a conscious decision, and take action to put yourself in a more positive state. Creating a cycle of positive emotions will help improve productivity and collaboration, as well as everyone’s mental and physical wellbeing.
2. Be more open about how we’re feeling: Being aware of our own emotions also allows us more control over how we express them. If you’re feeling down or on-edge, talking with someone you trust about how you’re feeling is a more effective way to resolve emotions than suffering in silence or making life difficult for those around you. It may also be comforting to realise that you’re not alone – having open discussions with others who may well be feeling the same, and showing some vulnerability is a great way to build even more trust and a sense of unity.
3. Smile more and encourage humour whenever possible: It seems simple, but as Daniel Goleman states, “laughing represents the shortest distance between two people because it instantly interlocks limbic systems”. Not only does this positively impact others’ directly, but it reduces hostility, relieves tension, and increases morale. Just take care not to use humour inappropriately or undermine the seriousness of some situations. And never forget that not everyone finds humour in the same things!