Have You Reached the Breaking Point at Work?

Stress: The confusion caused when one’s mind overrides the body’s natural desire to choke someone who desperately needs it. – A slightly sanitized pop-culture definition of “Stress”

Prevent reaching the breaking point at work

At one time or another, we’ve all reached the breaking point at work: the place where you have to get away from the pressure, the distraction, the politics, and the complaints before you just lose it all and dissolve into a babbling mess on the floor.

If you live in Dallas (the setting, ironically, of Mike Judge’s Office Space, the exemplar of office breakdown movies), then you can actually go to a business called The Anger Room and start beating things up. For sessions starting at five minutes and lasting for as long as half an hour, you can whale on old computers, printers, fax machines, TVs, and office furniture with your choice of clubs. The patrons say they find it cathartic.

But while The Anger Room is in the beginning stages of expansion to other cities, it hasn’t gotten that far yet—and tearing things up isn’t a healthy option for everyone anyhow. If you’re mad as heck and just can’t take it anymore, you can do slightly more civilized things to get away from it all and blow off steam… and I don’t mean primal scream therapy. That doesn’t work very well when you’re still at the office, and you tend to get funny looks.

Sometimes you don’t even have to get away at all to blow off steam.

Talk Therapy

As most of us can attest, verbal venting works wonders. If you can get away for a while, you can hold a gripe session with a co-worker. But this option is fraught with peril. First of all, gripe sessions don’t always help; they may just make you madder, and if you vent to a teammate, you run the risk off displacing your dissatisfaction onto them and poisoning their attitude. This can prove ruinous in terms of team productivity.

If you must vent to people at your office, it helps if they’re on a different team with different leaders, so you can “compartmentalize'” your griping. This lessens the chance of infecting your team, and you can depend on each other as mutual confidantes. But according to some observers, the best option for verbal venting is to call up a relative or friend who doesn’t work with you, and talk to them. They’re more likely to support you than not, but at the same time they may see the situation from a perspective you don’t, and point out reasons or solutions for whatever set you off that you’ve failed to consider. Neutrality can be a good thing.

Moving Right Along…

What do you do when a coworker won’t stop talking to you and drives you absolutely crazy? What do you do when someone constantly causes distractions, chats outside your door about nothing important, or wants to socialize too much?

You have a couple of options here. If you don’t mind speaking bluntly and it’s your personality, simply stick your head outside the door and say, “Hey you guys, can you take it somewhere else—people are trying to work here!” For people who drop in to “shoot the breeze,” let them know you’re up against a wall on a deadline. Ask if you can meet at lunchtime to catch up. You can be kind about it; let them know you enjoy their company, but set some limits.

What about all those “gotta minutes”? Not everyone has a door she can close to get some focused time. As a team, agree on a pre-determined signal for when they prefer not to be interrupted. Post a stop sign, put out a flag, or wear a certain colored baseball cap. Then add a nice set of noise-reducing earphones, and you can lose yourself in soothing music or ambient sound. But you can’t keep the signal up all day! You must agree on a time limit to be unavailable—people need to be able to talk with you.

Or if you need to blow off some steam, you can just hide! A nice, brisk walk around the building or the grounds outside serves as a great way to let your emotions simmer down; it’s also a good time to think, and allow your subconscious to help you out of a mental jam. If you’re stuck on a project or a report, take a quick walking, bathroom, or coffee break. When you return, you’re often able to pick up the task and move forward. Sometimes, as the old saying goes, a change really is as good as a rest.

You can also do a little light stretching, go up and down a few flights of stairs, or do some similar form of physical activity to burn off any adrenaline a spike of irritation has delivered. This may also be a good time to tackle that desk-cleaning task you’ve been putting off. Wouldn’t you like to know what the top of your desk actually looks like?

If Nothing Else Works

 I really hate to suggest it since it can be a huge timewaster, but if nothing else calms you down… try a social media break. I don’t recommend you blog about your awful boss or the co-worker whose tuneless whistling drives you mad, as it can easily come back to haunt you (some companies make a habit of monitoring employees’ social media posts), but clearing out your connection requests on LinkedIn or responding to Tweets can make you feel better.

Before going there, though, have some chocolate. I’m not kidding! Chocolate contains natural compounds that trigger calming neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. It also contains theobromine, a first cousin of caffeine that may help increase your alertness. Plus, eating increases your brain’s dopamine levels; that’s why “comfort foods” really work.

So the next time you feel like blowing your top, reach for the dark chocolate and take a walk. By the time you get back to your chair, you may be mellow enough to regain your productive edge.


© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (January 18, 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.




  1. Came across this blog post while writing our own blog post about managing stress in an office with multiple employees who sit close together. Appreciate the insight (and the Office Space movie reference).