Dealing with trigger moments at work

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If you are faced with some sort of mental health issue, you know that certain situations can “set you off”. If you suffer from social anxiety, going to large gatherings or parties may not be good for you. Or if you suffer from depression, an argument with a friend or a negative comment might start you spiralling into negative thoughts that it’s hard to get out of.

It’s difficult enough having to deal with these situations on a daily basis, but it’s an added challenge dealing with them at work. How can you ensure you will remain composed? How do you keep your emotions under control with your colleagues? How do you get away if you need a moment to collect yourself? I try to provide some answers below…

  1. Know your triggers. This may seem obvious but we don’t always know what sets us off, all we know is that we feel awful. For a long time I didn’t know I had anxiety so it was hard to figure out how to manage it. Try to take time and reflect on moments when you’ve felt particularly bad. What happened just before? Was it a stressful situation? A negative conversation? Being around too many people? Or once the moment is over, take a few minutes to reflect on what made it so difficult. As you recognize your “triggers”, write them down so you can remember them.
  2. Anticipate the situations. Once you’ve identified your triggers, you will realise which situations aren’t good for you. In the first instance, you might want to try and avoid them. If public speaking causes you to have panic attacks, see if you can talk to your manager and avoid public speaking engagements for a while. Or if you know that being at large gatherings makes you nervous, try to start with small ones. If you are not altogether avoiding your trigger situations, at the very least you will want to minimize them until you feel more under control.
  3. Face your fears. I do not recommend this for everyone or in all situations. However in some cases, it could be worth trying to overcome your fears. Back to the example of public speaking: you might want to take a course, use a vocal coach, or an acting coach, to help you get over it. You could practice, rehearse, and start accepting small speaking opportunities so you can slowly overcome the fear of the situation. Little by little, you may become comfortable with it and no longer have to dread the moment you present. You might even end up enjoying it! Not all fears have to remain.
  4. Know your secret weapon. In my blog post on anxiety or “stressed by work” I talk about knowing the things that help you stay calm and bring you back down to earth. It’s important to have your go-to list of things you can do: your favourite song, going for a walk, 5 minutes of meditation… Whatever it may be. So that if you are facing a difficult situation at work – you can use one of them to help calm you down.
  5. Talk to someone. In my blog post on “self-help techniques” I talk about the importance of having a friend at work. It’s not always possible, but if you are fortunate enough to find at least one person you trust, reach out to them in times of need.
  6. Go home. In the worst case scenario if all just gets too much, go home. If you are fortunate to have a flexible workplace policy, take your laptop and finish working from home. If you have an understandable manager, ask for half a day or a day off. Some situations may be overwhelming and this might be the best option. It can sometimes be better to allow yourself time off rather than trying to power through.

Ideally as conversations about mental health in the workplace open up, working environments will become more inclusive, enabling people with mental health issues to feel more comfortable and no longer presenting them with trigger situations. Hopefully this will also enable better dialogue, where people feel more comfortable to talk openly about their difficulties with others.

How do you deal with your trigger situations at work?

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