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Emotional Health: The Workplace as an Opportunity for Wellbeing

We’re a lot more like trees than we realize. We are both rooted in the earth and reaching for the sky, at least on a good day. We have times when we are in full fruit and flower, times when we let go, and times we get still, go within, and allow new growth to take root in the darkness. Many trees even form interconnected root systems underground.

We’re actually a lot like trees in the way we relate to each other, whether at work or with our families or friends. Much like the roots of trees, our nervous systems are connected to each other. We are constantly giving and receiving signals that are communicated by tone of voice, rhythm of speech, and our facial expressions, many of which are quite subtle. Though they are fleeting, we pick up on them without consciously realizing. In this way, we actually help each other regulate emotions. Since we spend considerable time at work, the quality of our relationships with our co-workers has a great impact on our emotional health.

A Society of Human Resources (SHRM) study conducted in 2023 found that 1 in 3 U.S. workers (31percent) say their job has had a positive impact on their mental health over the past six months, with older generations, “Baby Boomers,” and Traditionalists more likely to be positively affected. Our work life, with shared goals, resources, and spaces, offers considerable opportunity for interactions that regulate our nervous systems. As we go through our workday, there are many opportunities for interactions that meet our need for connection, and for us to feel seen, heard, and even to heal.

When we feel frustrated or annoyed at work, these difficult interactions offer opportunities for rupture and repair, and are a part of human interaction that is a catalyst for growth and healing. In their book,The Power of Discord, Dr. Ed Tronick and Dr. Claudia Gold offer a new way of thinking about difficult moments in relationships. According to Tronick and Gold, human interactions are, in fact more often“mis-attuned” or “mismatched” than they are in-sync. They posit that the reason for this tendency is that, while the happy moments when we are attuned and feeling understood do create a feeling of connection, the moments of discord are where true growth happens.

If we integrate what we now know about how our nervous systems connect and co-regulate, and bring intentionality to our workplace relationships, our day can become even more satisfying. When we lookin a new way at our co-workers’ facial expressions, listen to their tones of voices, and seize the opportunity to recognize their emotions, validate them, and affirm them, we may just fulfill a deeper need for interrelatedness both for the other person and for ourselves. All said, work can provide a mutual opportunity to support our emotional wellbeing and enrich our mental health. Like trees, we can grow and flourish in unexpected and new ways, by connecting with and supporting each other.

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