Signs That You’re Bringing Personal Problems To Work (And How to Avoid It)

by | Jul 12, 2022 | Conflict Management, Relationships, Self-Care, Wellness

Having a productive workplace includes an environment that encourages open communication, healthy discussions, and a sense of camaraderie — all of which can be hard to achieve when you might be bringing personal problems to work.

When you’re suffering emotionally, and you feel like crap, it can be hard to bring your best self anywhere. Of course, bringing personal problems to work, and letting our personal issues interfere with professional performance is never a good thing.  Here are some quick thoughts on what you may be doing and how to take better care of yourself so that you are bringing your BEST self to the workplace.

Here are some signs that you might be bringing your personal problems to work:

1. You are having trouble getting along with your coworkers.

It usually starts out small: one minute you’re fine, and the next thing you know you’re snapping at a coworker or colleague over something that never upset you before, or even something trivial. Next thing you know, things are snowballing (IRL or in your mind but either way it’s unpleasant.) There can be a lot of triggers for mood swings, and while some of them may simply be from the stress that comes with the job, but it’s also possible that you’re letting home life upset trickle into work. Going through divorce can be a major trigger that impacts all parts of your life.  It makes perfect sense that you would be a bit edgier than usual.  

2. You are late for work, or missing deadlines.

When you’re feeling off-kilter it’s easy for things to go off the rails. If you’re typically punctual and lately you find things are slipping through the cracks, it’s time to give yourself a time out and engage in some radical self care.  Better to take a few days off and give yourself a much needed mental health break and then come back to the office ready to go.  If you are dealing with difficult situations at home (such a going through divorce or other difficult life transition) and you are having a tough time living up to your work responsibilities, be sure to give yourself a simple and clear to-do schedule every single day.  And remember, making the list is only step one.  You have to check the boxes to be sure you are actually getting things done.

woman running hands through hair, stressed, on a desk with a lot of files and office supplies

3. You are making more mistakes, or feel like your work is not up to par.

It’s normal to have a bad day at work; sometimes, things that are out of our control can mess with our productivity. However, if you notice that these “bad days” are happening more and more frequently (or worse, are beginning to form a pattern), it pays to pay attention to why this might be happening. Dealing with an all-consuming personal issue can drain your energy and resources before you even step into your office, and when your personal problems are taking up space in your mind, this can affect how well you can concentrate on tasks at work. 

4. You are taking personal calls or managing personal communication at work.

This is the most telling sign: when your problems at home are becoming too complicated to leave outside the office, they can spill over into the time you have supposedly allotted for work. It might be okay to take a call from home or from someone you’re in a relationship with while you’re at work once in a while (or ideally when you’re on your break), but if you notice that these phone calls, texts, emails, or messages are taking up most of the time you’re clocked in at work, then it might be time to check in with yourself and your boundaries.

If these signs sound familiar, here are some quick tips that  how you can avoid being that coworker moving forward:

1. When you’re feeling irritable, take a pause for a few minutes to check in with yourself.

Letting cooler heads prevail is always better than saying something in the heat of the moment, especially when you’re talking to coworkers. Here’s a great little exercise you can do to ground yourself when something upsets you at work:

Find a quiet place where you can sit with your thoughts. It would help to bring a journal or even just a piece of paper on which you can write the answers to the following questions:

  • How am I feeling? (Be as descriptive as possible. Write as many as you can for 2 minutes.)
  • Why am I feeling this way? (For another 2 minutes, write down as many reasons as you can think of. Try to dig deep; sometimes, there might be another reason behind a reason.)
  • Is there anything I can do about the problem? (Note yes or no for each problem situation/ person)
    • For “yes” answers: What can I do to resolve it? Remember: it doesn’t have to be a complete solution; even just a temporary one that alleviates your initial stress can be enough, especially if it will help you perform better. For instance, if emails pouring in from your ex are upsetting, give them a separate account to use and then check that account once a day.  Your normal email is for emergencies from them only.  
    • For “no” answers: Acknowledge your feelings about these problems, and let them go. You can do this by focusing on other tasks, or avoiding the person that is causing the conflict. You may have wanted to do divorce mediation but your ex has dragged you into court.  It’s awful and you are stuck there. 
stressed man in a man bun staring at his laptop on a desk

2. Replace catastrophizing your personal problems with work-related tasks.

Notice how many times or how much time you spend stressing over personal issues when you’re at work. Instead of attempting to just stop thinking about it, replace this negative thought with a positive one.  This is something that you can really train yourself to do on a day to day basis.  Overtime, calm will become a habit.

Here’s a simple breathing exercise to help you reset when you find yourself sinking in a rabbit hole of your personal worries:

  • Take a breath in for five seconds or  until your lungs feel full. While you’re doing this, think of the specific thing that’s bothering you.
  • Hold the breath for five seconds/
  • Begin to breath out, slowly as well. As you do this imagine your worry deflating, and floating away as the air escapes your lungs.
  • Repeat for 4-9 more times. You can repeat “I can do this” or “I release worry.”
  • Once your head is clear, you can now tackle your next work task. It helps to take on something that’s engaging and requires a lot of concentration; that way, you fill up the precious real estate in your mind with productive work!

3. Set and enforce boundaries between your personal and professional spaces.

Setting and enforcing boundaries to keep yourself from bringing personal problems to work can be achieved on many levels, but in especially complicated situations, the key is to start with something small and simple. For example, you can turn off notifications from your messaging app, and set a specific time to check messages from home or from the other party involved in your personal conflict. By limiting the physical channels that they can reach you, you are creating a space wherein you can focus on your work — without being constantly bombarded with distracting notifications. 

The thing about personal baggage is that it can be checked at the door when you enter the office. 

And while this might sound like a challenge when your personal issues seem too big and overwhelming to handle, you can also look at it another way: actively avoiding bringing your personal problems to work is an opportunity to take a break from something that might be draining you emotionally and mentally. 

Most importantly, you do not have to take on your personal and professional problems alone. Reach out to your support network if you need to unload about your personal issues, and if it gets too hard to bear at work, remember: self-care can be scheduled, and you can always file for a leave to take that well-deserved mental health break.  You can do this.  One day at a time.  One moment at a time.  Step by step.

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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.


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