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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

How often does stress negatively impact your mood at work?

Workplace stress is a major issue in North America. In fact, in the United States, workplace stress is estimated to be adding $190-billion (U.S.) in health care costs, and it has been attributed to over 120,000 deaths.

The frequency, duration and intensity of stress you perceive in the workplace can influence your mood, and how you respond to stress impacts your emotions.

This microskill focuses on daily mood management. The better you manage your mood, the better you will be at curbing negative thinking and behaviours that negatively affect productive work time.

Mood management starts with awareness. Similar to driver training, where it's valuable to have some basic insights so you know how a vehicle reacts when it hits ice and why it loses traction, mood management assists in preventing emotional spinouts.

Here are some useful insights:

  • Our “old brain” is unconsciously constantly scanning for danger. It houses and processes memories and emotional reactions. One source suggests that the old brain operates at four million bits of input per second, and when it perceives a threat it can quickly attach powerful emotions such as fear and anger.
  • Our “new brain” is much slower and needs time to catch up to the old brain. This conscious brain moves at just 8,000 bits per second, so it is always playing catchup in order for rational thinking and problem solving can be used.

Because of this difference in speeds, the risk in times of stress and pressure is to become emotionally hijacked; our thinking gets overpowered by our emotions, which can result in poor decision making that can make things worse. Think of a loving couple having an argument and saying things they really don't mean.

Here are some ways to manage your moods:

Mood management coaching

Mood management is defined by our ability to keep powerful emotions in check so that we can make rational decisions that are in our and others' best interests. The better we are able to stay calm under pressure, the less likely we will overreact and make poor decisions in the workplace.

Build your mood management foundation

Most of us took driver education, and had to pass a written and practical test to get a licence. Like driving, the more we practice, the better we get. The more we practice managing our emotions, the more likely we will succeed. However, it's helpful to have the basics. Get your emotional intelligence (EQ) baseline and evaluate the benefits of learning more.

Practice pausing

Powerful emotions create urgency and the drive to make a decision and act. One simple rule: Don't make any decisions when you are upset, such as angry, hurt, or scared. Pause and resist making a decision until you have calmed down and your conscious brain catches up. Sleep on it, or if it's a Friday afternoon, leave it until Monday. And don't send e-mails when you're upset. It's okay to write one, but put it away for a few hours and re-read it before hitting send. Delay as long as you can, so you have time for your thinking to catch up, to ensure you are not making decisions based on emotion and not facts. It may not change the outcome, but it can help you get yourself in a better position to manage your mood.

Monitor your mood management ability

Daily monitoring and tracking are effective ways to objectively evaluate how well you are managing your emotions and mood at work. A daily journal that tracks your emotions, mood and outlook can help you determine the skills you may want to develop to add to your mood management foundation. A free, daily personal on-line journal can be used to track your mood day to day.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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