How To Keep It Together At Work When Your Personal Life Is A Mess

Barely holding it together once you step into the office? Here’s how to cope at work when you feel like your life is falling apart.

How To Keep It Together At Work When Your Personal Life Is A Mess
[Image: Everett Collection via Shutterstock]

We’ve all been there, even if you don’t want to admit it. It’s life.


And take it from someone who usually has great composure in a professional setting. You can try as hard as you want, bottle it all in, throw on some peppy tunes, but sometimes you just can’t help losing it a bit at work.

I started my first real job in February, and up until about three weeks ago, I was the epitome of professional. I showed up on time, wore appropriate clothing, engaged in meetings, spoke up when necessary, you get the picture. But then Monday rolled around, and I felt like my life (outside of work) had fallen apart. I was knee deep in friend drama, utterly confused about the dating scene in NYC (it’s rough), and I just found out that I was, yet again, roommateless and apartmentless for my impending move in September.

All of the craziness happened so fast. In the aftermath, I was quietly sitting at my desk trying to keep it together, but then my hands started shaking, my breathing started getting sporadic, my heart was pounding, then I abruptly left the office and headed to a deserted hallway in my office building. I didn’t know what to do, so I called my parents for some moral support. The minute I opened my mouth to talk about what was happening, the tears started to roll. I think it took roughly 5 minutes for me to calm down and get a word out. A woman had walked by me during my meltdown and gave me that “look,” the one that’s full of sympathy and usually makes you feel even worse.

Related: How To Deal With Personal Problems At Work

I had shared my whole story with my Mom, and managed to feel a little better. I went to the bathroom to freshen up (I’m definitely an ugly crier), and then attempted to go back to the office like nothing had happened. Well, that didn’t work. Tons of emotions were flooding through me, and I found myself thinking that this was my first experience in learning how to balance my personal life with my work life. In an age that’s flooding with technology, it’s nearly impossible to separate the two, at least at a small company like Levo. We can open Facebook up at our leisure, keep our phones on our desk, and essentially communicate with our friends and family during the work hours. I was having a tough time, and I didn’t know how to get away from it, or handle it.

Even though I don’t necessarily think I dealt with my first balancing experience particularly well, I did learn some important lessons that will hopefully help me, and others, down the road:


1. It happens to everyone.

To let off steam, I exercise. And part my exercising this summer has including playing a weekly tennis match with one of my friends. Because we play on free courts in the city, we usually have to wait a bit, giving us plenty of time to “girl talk.” After telling her my depressing story, she admitted that she, too, has cried at work over coworker issues, and it may have even happened more than once. It’s almost like strength in numbers. Somehow you automatically feel better knowing you’re not alone.

2. It could be worse.

After I finally managed to be coherent when I was on the phone with my parents, they told me that they thought I had lost my job, which would definitely have been much worse. In the moment, whatever’s happening to you seems like the earth is shattering below your feet. But in reality, you’ll get back up, move forward, and the hurt will eventually be a distant memory.

Related: 7 Ways To Simplify Your Work Life

Maybe I didn’t know where I was going to live in a month, but I had a job that I loved, parents that cared enough to listen to me blabber (or blubber), and friends that would agree with just about everything I said because they knew it would make me feel better. It really could be much worse, and it’s important to remember that.

3. You CAN talk to your coworkers.

While it might not be the best idea to let your coworkers in on all your deepest, darkest secrets, it is ok to ask them to talk for a bit. Go get some fresh air, share what’s going on, and they might be able to offer some sound advice. If they’re a little bit older, remember that they’ve probably been through the same experiences as you. During my meltdown, one of my coworkers said something that really resonated. These people that I was stressing over weren’t worth my time. Even if I’ve said that in my head a million times, hearing someone else say it made it stick.

4. Shedding a tear won’t hurt your career.

Not only did my experience not hurt my career, but it sparked an idea (this post) that could add another topic to my writing repertoire. My coworkers, my boss were all understanding, and they know that sometimes things like this happen. When other things in your life might not be the best, it’s probably not a good time to worry about your job, too. Accept that you had a personal moment and find a way to still succeed. If you need to work from home? Ask your boss. If you need to take a personal day? Do it, that’s what they’re there for. Sitting at your desk feeling upset won’t help your productivity, or those around you.


5. Find an outlet.

It could be writing, running, eating, talking, yelling, anything that will help you release some of that emotion and steam. During my days of unrest I ran the furthest I’ve ever run, considered starting a blog, probably made my mom want to change her phone number, and ate my fair share of ice cream. It all helped, and it all helped me move on.

You’re never going to be completely composed at work. Life happens, so it’s best to have a plan of action for when it does. What are your tips for keeping it together at work? Let us know in the comment section below!

This article originally appeared in Levo League and is reprinted with permission.

Erica Murphy is the editorial assistant at Levo.