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Staying Afloat in an Emotional Storm

Jun 9, 2020 | 14m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Key distinctions between acting, reacting and suppressing your feelings
  • Why it’s better to be honest with your emotions than to seek distractions
  • What the traits of an ideal person for a frank emotional conversation looks like


Life with the Emotional Side

We bring our whole selves to work, whether we like it or not. That includes our mindset and emotions, which are influenced by whatever happens in and out of the office. Sometimes we also carry home the built-up stress and tension from work, which in turn affects our interactions with family and friends. When our emotions get the better of us, we tend to react in ways that can be detrimental to both our work and personal relationships.

In competitive situations, where the stakes are high and the expectations even higher, negative emotions like fear, anxiety and jealousy that are left unchecked can impact your performance. Whether it’s for a golf tournament or a high-profile business pitch, you’d ideally want a clear head to navigate the various challenges that pop up along the way. Furthermore, when you’re collaborating and striving towards these goals as part of a team, negative emotions running high can hurt team dynamics, elevating tensions between colleagues and detracting from the objective.

However, humans aren’t robots – we can’t turn off our emotions with the flick of a switch. Neither is suppressing our emotions the right approach, since they’ll just bubble up and re-emerge in other situations before long. It’s important to accept our emotional side without letting it loose to influence our actions, which is why we need to carefully manage it. How can we achieve this? Doing the right actions help, as well as making the right friends and having the right mindset. Before we can effectively implement these in our lives, we need to first understand what we are feeling and why we’re feeling the way we do.

Expectations, Baggage and Feelings

Imagine representing a country of over one billion people at the biggest tournament of your life, at the young age of 13. It’s also your first time in a foreign country, facing off against hundreds of equally talented players.

How would you feel?

For me, the initial pride and happiness of representing my nation in an international golf tournament in China eventually felt like a heavy responsibility. As I piled on the pressure of high expectations on myself, that responsibility then turned into a burden. I was immersed in an overbearing sensation – even as I was competing against everyone else, I was also competing against myself, and not in a positive sense. Having conjured up an image of the ideal golfer in my head, I felt like I had to transform myself into this vision in order to meet the expectations I imagined were placed upon me. In that intense environment, I could not find the genuine enjoyment and fun that I had experienced whenever I played golf. Being in unfamiliar territory made it hard for me to find my footing, both competitively and emotionally.

Your life may be shaped by different (but equally tough) situations. So you too might be familiar with the experience of heavy expectations and negative emotions that occur as a result.

The feeling of anxiety and discomfort I felt during that golf tournament in China was not just a thing of the distant past. As recently as January 2020, in a professional tournament in India, those heavy, suffocating emotions re-emerged and began to affect my golf play. While the first two days of the event progressed smoothly, once I found myself in the lead for the first time in my professional career, a wave of anxiety surged through me and I found myself worrying about maintaining my lead over 126 other professionals.

Before I reached this stage, it felt like the golf club and my body were in complete sync as one, but once I had attained a new level of success that I was unaccustomed to, the game I played for so many years suddenly felt very foreign and unnatural to me. I’m not alone in experiencing this feeling of anxiety during important moments – for example, anyone who’s founding a start-up for the first time likely understands the same feeling of being out of their depth in uncharted territory. However, time is an effective remedy for these situations. As you gain more experience and improve over time, you’ll gradually learn how to deal with such situations when they occur.

Whether you’re working, engaged in an event or back home, you’re still the same person – just as you may carry work-related stress and emotions home, it’s also possible that you may be bringing tension and anger from within the family to the office. It’s important to realise that we’re likely to absorb negativity from various places throughout our daily life, and that this energy may influence the actions we take. While strong emotions like anger and hatred can be channelled into work productivity very sparingly and in short bursts, they’re bound to create disharmony within the family when unleashed.

I love my family, but just like any other family, sometimes tempers run high and arguments break out. Even when I’m not directly involved, the environment at home is charged with strong emotions which I subconsciously take to work. If you’re not careful, such stress could affect office relationships and worsen any existing troubles at your job. That’s why you should aim to minimise the emotional impact of whatever’s happening at home to prevent it from hurting your performance in a work environment, and vice versa.

Honestly Accepting Your Negativity

As a unique individual, you may find yourself more prone to experiencing certain negative emotions that can get the better of you. Think back to a time where you were put in a difficult situation, and identify the emotions that tended to bubble up. Personally, when I’m having a bad game of golf and not meeting my own expectations, I become agitated and hot-tempered. Unfortunately, when that happens, I also become less understanding towards my caddy when he makes minor mistakes or slip-ups. When placed under pressure, I tighten up physically while losing some of my rationality and self-awareness.

Jealousy is another emotion that I’m no a stranger to, even when I’m indirectly responsible for creating the situation that would make me feel that way. Some occasions where I’ve experienced jealousy (and then felt ashamed for feeling it) were when I did not receive the attention I felt I deserved after achieving a victory, or after someone I knew won a golf tournament; had a golfer less known than me won that tournament, I would have felt less upset. Even with the people close to me, there have been times where I neglected to maintain those relationships, but then felt jealous after they turned towards others who showed more care and concern.

Perhaps you’ve also experienced these feelings of envy and anger in your own life and opted to suppress them whenever possible. From personal experience, when I try to suppress my feelings of envy and anxiety, it works…for a while. Before long, they find their way back to the surface in the form of other negative emotions and I find myself expressing those bad vibes in other areas of my life. Moreover, when you suppress an emotion, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to acknowledge and resolve it in a healthy way, it’ll continue to circulate like a vicious cycle, and the effort to constantly suppress it is going to add to your emotional stress.

If I don’t embrace the reality of those emotions, but instead try and behave like everything’s okay, some event will invariably trigger those feelings to come flooding out. That’s why I feel like suppressing doesn’t work, and acknowledging your uncomfortable emotional side is very important. Thus far I’ve had good results when embracing my feelings by writing them down when they flare up. By putting pen to paper, I can come to terms with my feelings and understand that it’s okay to not be okay, to be pissed off or unhappy sometimes. It’s not something that you or I can easily master – it’s a work in progress that will require consistent effort to get better at.

The modern world is full of distractions, and they can function as an easy way out from needing to confront your feelings. It even works in the short term. But just like attempting to suppress your feelings, distracting yourself from them does nothing to resolve the issue. The negativity is still there, embedded in your subconscious and just awaiting another trigger to unleash itself.

With acknowledgement comes awareness, and with awareness comes the ability to better manage your emotions and how you express them. When you express feelings like anger, anxiety and jealousy without being aware of it, that’s bound to lead to disaster. Once an emotion gets the better of you, your actions and reactions will not be coming from a place of control. Instead of looking for solutions to the negativity you’re feeling, you might find yourself trying to justify feeling that way.

“The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.” – Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

Mark Manson says it best, but I’ll break it down further. Don’t justify or seek explanations for your emotions. Understand them and face them honestly. When you can be honest with yourself, you can then be honest with others – that positivity is going to spread out and influence any environment you’re in. When you’re dishonest with yourself, you’re going to be eaten up by your emotions from within. Sometimes it can be confronting to learn that you’re not as good a person as you thought you were. But you can become that person, and it starts with being self-aware and emotionally true to yourself.

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Trishul Chinnappa

Professional Golfer



Well-being at Work