Meltdown at Work? Here’s How to Deal

Meltdown at Work? Here's How to Deal.

It happens. We’re human, we have emotions and it’s just naive to think that they’ll never bubble to the surface at work. And, sometimes that can turn into a meltdown during the nine to five. Have you ever found yourself in the bathroom stall crying? Because I have. More than once throughout my career.

One particular moment I found myself in this position when I was in my first full-time role out of college and my senior coworker came out and told me she thought I was being rude. The second I heard that word come out: cue the meltdown.

I immediately felt my emotions of frustration, embarrassment, and confusion thrust to the surface. My eyes began to water and the already closet of a conference room began to feel much smaller.

I didn’t know how to respond to feedback like that. How was I being rude I thought? I would never want to give that impression. From my point of view, I was very frustrated myself.

I felt like I was being ambushed by my coworkers and that my ideas were being dismissed because I was new, despite the fact that I ultimately owned the project that was being discussed. I was just attempting to stand my ground and be assertive in what I felt was the best solution. The solution that was going to be most effective and save us all time.  

I pushed through the tears forming as I replied with something along the lines of, “I’m very sorry if I’ve given that impression. I just feel as if my thoughts aren’t being taken into consideration and I don’t think we’ve reached the best way to approach this.”

I excused myself, made a beeline to the bathroom and cried silently in a stall for a good ten minutes.

I emerged wiping tears from my eyes, trying to slow my breathing and make it look like I was absolutely fine. That I had not, in fact, been sobbing in hiding and that the comment my coworker made had no effect on me.

I went from being shocked and embarrassed to just plain mad in the hours that followed. The next day, I intentionally had my headphones in the entire day to avoid any unnecessary conversation. My anger had began to fester at that point and I let it show in the days that followed. Me, rude? Preposterous.

What I’ve learned is that a meltdown at work is bound to happen at some point. How you deal with it is what’s important.

Don't make decisions in the heat of the moment.

Looking back I’ve had several instances of allowing my emotions to take the driver’s seat when I’m feeling frustrated at the office. One time in college, I had a student position at the university’s financial office. At one point, my boss overreacted to an issue that arose, making a scene and I felt defeated. 

My “I’ll show you” attitude as I like to call it reared its ugly head. After leaving work I drove straight to the grocery store I had left at the end of the summer and asked for my job back there with the intention to quit the next day at the financial office.

But, I didn’t quit. The next day the dust had settled, I realized my boss was probably just having a bad day and I didn’t really want to walk away from an on-campus job that paid well and understood I was student first, student employee second.

So what happened? I ended up working both jobs for the next two years. Fun? Not so much. While that’s my story of making a rash decision in the heat of the moment, I have a feeling you might have one too.

We all have those moments where we’ve envisioned quitting on the spot and storming out. Or, putting a particularly difficult coworker in their place. See, it’s this thing called life and despite are best attempts to always remain cool, calm and collected, it’s just not always possible.

However, when your emotions are running high and you feel a meltdown at work coming on, I urge you to let them subside before making any big decisions or firing off a salty email.

Let the dust settle, my friend.

Take a breather, take yourself out of the environment.

Take a chill pill, so to speak, and I say that lovingly. This is the key to not making rash decisions that you’ll wish you could jump in a time machine to erase.

My personal story above is the perfect example of what not to do. Take the time you need to digest how you are feeling. When your emotions are at an all-time high, you’ll likely throw out what the cool, calm and collected version of yourself would do out the window. And as a result, you may end up making a decision you regret later.

Get an email that has sent you into an all-american rage? Stop re-reading it, take fifteen minutes and then respond. Have a particularly difficult conversation with a coworker? Go outside, take a walk and clear your head.

[Related: Your Guide to Being a Coworker People Love to Work With] 

Learn from the meltdown.

After it’s all said and done take a minute to think about what lesson you can take from it.

Would you handle a similar situation in the office differently next time? Maybe, maybe not. Or, maybe you’ll know what to do the next time you feel a high stress situation coming on.

You might be wondering, what became of myself and that coworker? Spoiler alert, the dust settled and a couple of days after that uncomfortable confrontation the tensions began to subside.

The actual root of the issue? We had different ways of communicating and we needed to work through that. Was I trying to be rude? Of course not. But I took time to reflect on how the way I was communicating might be interpreted by my coworker.

Was she trying to stonewall my ideas? Nope. We were all working towards the same goal. We just needed to find a better way to cooperate and move forward.

In fact, we became a very close knit team. I learned from that coworker, enjoyed working with her very much and when she left the organization I found myself tearing up once again. But this time because I knew how much I would miss working with her each day.

Ever had a meltdown at work? How did you handle it?