How To Handle Emotional Pain At Work The Non-MacGyver Way

Do you get those days? When you are feeling down in the dumps, tired, emotional, beating up on yourself… and then your inner voice says: you're such a crybaby for letting this get to you!


Hey, I hear you! I have been at this self-development thing for a few years now, and I still get occasional days like that. Wondering why I can't just get over it, switch it off, move on, let go… And that is exactly the point.


We're constantly barraged with society’s demand to switch off, move on and let go. There's hardly any time or space for emotional and spiritual pain or processing in our fast-paced, go-getting, 24/7, high-performance, perfect efficiency type world.


It is bad enough that you needed sick leave to deal with the flue, but now you are telling me you are distracted by your anxiety? I can’t see anything wrong with you, therefore you must be exaggerating or worse; making it up! Sounds familiar? Unfortunately, this is quite common in workplaces, but it doesn't end there. Even when our boss doesn't say it, or if we are our own boss... our inner voice still tends to speak to us like this. 

Let me reassure you: emotional pain is not a shortcoming!

Or in the words of R.E.M.: Everybody Hurts (Sometimes)

The real problem seems to be that we happen to live in a society of instant fixes and constant pressure to function at peak efficiency.

Feel a cold coming on? Take some pills.

Don’t like the look of your skin? Hide it under this layer of make-up.

Don’t like the size of your waistline? Drink this chemically engineered protein shake.

We are constantly applying duct-tape solutions to our lives, but guess what? Your soul doesn’t stop bleeding just because you taped it up (neither does your body, by the way). We need time, space, love, understanding and compassion to rebuild the parts of ourselves that were damaged. 


How does the saying go? We are human beings, not human doings. Neither are we human-cog-in-the-machine-of-the-24-hour-economy, by the way.


The shortcoming you may be experiencing isn’t in the emotional pain you feel. As frustrating as personal growth can get sometimes. I believe the shortcoming is in our collective inability to understand that there is no time-line for human suffering. There are no SMART goals, no linear path and especially no duct-tape solutions. Dealing with our mental and emotional health is ugly crying, fits of anger, moments of heartbreak, euphoric victories, hysterical laughter. Our healing is connection, compassion and patience.


So, the next time you feel like you should be “over it by now”, take a deep breath and step away from the duct-tape. 

Seriously, put down that duct tape!

The Non-MacGyver Alternative

In an interview with Emma Smillie of Flolab, I recently said: 


"[T]here is no room for healing in so many parts of our society. Like at work, for example, the ethos is “leave your personal shit at the door”. It’s all very well saying that, but where would you like me to put it during office hours? “Could you please point me in the direction of your ‘emotional baggage drop’?”. Wouldn't that be great if you had some kind of “trauma lockers”, where you could just leave it and perform in life and at work, unaffected by all that has happened to you in life? Haha.


But that’s not how we work; we are complex human beings. Organisations and business owners need to become more compassionate about the fact that we are operating every day informed and influenced by our trauma and if it's unresolved it’s going to affect every area of your business, and society as a whole."


You may be thinking: great, Mags! I need to be more compassionate in my business, but where do I start?

Find loving language to speak to yourself and others will be transformative
Find loving language to speak to yourself and others will be transformative

Compassion grows compassion

Lead by example, even if you are your own leader. By showing compassion to others, it becomes easier to show it to ourselves. When we are around people who are compassionate towards themselves and others, we will become more compassionate. See where I'm going with this?


Make compassion part of your life. Actively seek it out in yourself and others and it will become easier and easier.

Make power moves by finding your circle of control
Make power moves by finding your circle of control

Focus on what you can control

We can't always control when we feel anxious or depressed. But we can control how we manage ourselves and our workload when it happens. 


When I was still in the midst of my trauma healing, I would make sure not to plan more than about an hour of deadlined work a day. No matter how shit I'd feel, I could always get about an hours work done somehow, at some moment of the day. Everything else I'd plan for the day could just be postponed. So, I'd be able to take the rest of the day off and deal with the PTSD or the headache, without getting into all sorts of trouble with my VA clients. 


For you, this may not be about deadlines, but about what tasks to prioritise. Perhaps you are not in the right state of mind to write new content, but there is that stack of filing that's been waiting to be done. 

Doing happy dances is one of my favourite ways to celebrate!
Doing happy dances is one of my favourite ways to celebrate!

Celebrate the small wins

Make sure you celebrate the things that are going well, and that you have been able to finish and succeed at, despite not feeling that good. Especially when you tend to have a negative inner dialogue about your need to rest or process, it is important to give attention to the areas that are going well in your life and your business.

Having healthy boundaries creates space for self-care
Having healthy boundaries creates space for self-care

Set boundaries (with yourself and others)

Brené Brown explains the importance of boundaries when it comes to our ability to be compassionate.


"Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They're compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

― Brené Brown, Rising Strong


Boundaries are often a sore point, especially for us women. We want to help everyone and feel guilty when we perceive ourselves to fall short of that goal. But, being able to prioritise our own needs means we can be of service so much better.