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Team Intellect

3 strategies for emotional regulation — a top struggle for employees in Asia

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Table of Content

Table of Contents

From the thrill of achievement to the frustration of setbacks; the joy of finding a “work bestie” to the disappointment of being misunderstood, the work day is often coloured by a spectrum of emotions. However, suppressing negative emotions has become the modus operandi in the modern workplace. After all, isn’t that how we define ourselves as professional individuals?

But as employee wellbeing takes centerstage, so does the importance of emotional regulation – the ability to understand, manage, and even leverage our emotions. Unfortunately, Intellect found emotional regulation to be among the key “weaknesses” among employees in Asia.

Instead of pushing negative emotions aside and allowing them to fester, potentially leading to organisational phenomena like “quiet quitting”, how can we create space for them? It starts with changing the way we think about emotions.

The risk of labelling “good” and “bad” emotions

We’re all familiar with labelling emotions such as guilt, sadness, and anger as “bad”, while embracing others like excitement, gratitude, and joy as “good”. But emotions vary in intensity and durations, and are inherently subjective to each individual. An overly simplistic understanding of our emotions not only lacks accuracy, but can also hinder our personal and professional development.

It’s essential to recognise that emotions can provide us with valuable information and motivate beneficial behaviours. Feeling nervous when approaching a dark alley, for instance, is a response rooted in reason – there could be potential danger lurking in the shadows.

Dismissing this nervousness as solely a “bad” emotion and proceeding regardless might compromise your safety. Similarly, experiencing overwhelm during a crunch time at work might be your body’s way of signalling a need for rest. Ignoring this internal “call for help” and pushing harder may lead you down the path of burnout, for a candle that burns twice as fast tends to burn out twice as quickly.

Likewise, feeling guilty after lashing out at an employee may be unpleasant, but it’s a necessary reminder that your actions may have deviated from your values.

That being said, treating emotions as if they were facts can be problematic. This could sound like “If I feel scared of my boss, it must mean he’s a bad person” or “If I feel unmotivated, I must be a useless employee.”

Why is emotional regulation important?

If emotions serve a purpose, how can we make the best of them? The answer lies in emotional regulation, or the capacity to manage our impulses and harness the advantages of both positive and negative emotions. A lack of emotional regulation skills affects our:

Physical wellbeing: Neglecting our emotions can lead to the emergence of recurring and intense emotional states, which may manifest as high blood pressure, muscle aches, weakened immunity, sleep disturbances, and digestive issues. All of these factors can contribute to the perpetuation of additional negative emotions, resulting in a potentially vicious cycle.

Behaviour: In instances where we find ourselves ensnared in a fight-or-flight response, hasty reactions frequently lead to actions that we later come to regret, often causing harm to others. Conversely, emotional regulation buys us time to acknowledge our feelings, assess our options, and make deliberate choices aligned with our values.

Strategies for emotional regulation

1. Modify the situation

Firstly, identify the situations that are prone to trigger intense emotions. Within a work context, these triggers might encompass specific conversations, colleagues, tasks, or recurrent scenarios. While you may not eliminate these triggers entirely, have a think about how you can make them more manageable.

For example, if speaking up in large team meetings triggers anxiety, dedicating time to jot down your ideas before the meeting can help you avoid being caught off-guard or feeling cornered. Suppose you tend to ruminate on negative feedback throughout the day. In that case, scheduling a performance review towards the end of the day may afford you the time and mental space necessary to process any constructive criticism.

2. Reframe your thoughts

A seemingly innocuous message like “are you free for a chat?” might leave one individual unfazed but trigger alarm bells in the mind of another, raising concerns like “Am I going to get fired?”

The way we think, feel, and behave often intertwine, causing the same situation to elicit diverse reactions due to varying thought patterns. Other than being cognisant about your emotions, we can also be more aware about our thoughts. Whenever possible, be alert when negative thoughts first arise and actively reframe them. Without ignoring the reality, we can incorporate positive affirmations and self-talk to see the same scenario in a different light.

For instance, upon receiving constructive criticism at work, a common reaction could be to feel inadequate and succumb to self-deprecating thoughts such as “I’m consistently careless” or “I never manage to do anything right.” As a guiding principle, it’s wise to steer clear of these all-or-nothing notions as they tend to be far from accurate.

Rather than fixating on what our manager now thinks about us, an aspect beyond our control, we can remind ourselves of facts like “I am learning and will get better when I practise more” or “Recognising this sooner than later gives me a better chance of passing my probation.”

While we may still feel disappointed, this redirects our attention to our newfound insights and instils a greater sense of confidence in our ability to improve.

3. Focus on the “here and now”

What happens when the window to modify our situation or reframe our thoughts has closed, and the fight-or-flight mode has taken over? In such circumstances, mindfulness techniques bring these strong emotions to a lower intensity.

For some people, visualising a calming time and place – like walking your dog along the beach – helps. For others, exercises such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation can ground them within the present moment, given that strong emotions such as regret or anxiety frequently stem from fixating on the past or future.

The Five Senses Grounding Exercise is another technique designed to shift our focus to the current moment. Consider a situation where you’re about to take the stage to speak. If you find yourself becoming anxious in the moments preceding your appearance, intentionally slowing down and connecting with your surroundings can help. Take note of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 sounds you can hear, 2 scents you can detect, and 1 taste you can identify.

Emotional regulation with Intellect

When we feel overwhelmed, we may overlook these coping strategies and resort to distracting ourselves with social media, unintentionally exposing ourselves to potential triggers (imagine seeing a colleague openly celebrate a promotion that you were passed over for). During such moments, Intellect offers a more constructive alternative to mindless scrolling.

Our Rescue Sessions and Learning Paths were crafted with the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in mind, and have notably reduced levels of anxiety and worry for about 45% of users in Singapore. When combined with in-person or virtual coaching, counselling, or therapy sessions on the platform, Intellect has also been proven to enhance next-day resilience for working adults in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Reach out to Intellect for a demo here.

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