“Sit comfortably in your chair. Allow your eyes to close. Put a hand on your heart. Allow yourself to feel deeply grateful,” said Julia Zhu Meade.

You might think Meade was leading a meditation or yoga class. But Career and Leadership Coach Julia Zhu Meade was the speaker at the Nov. 7 School of Accountancy’s continuing education event, “Navigating Emotions at the Workplace,” hosted by the school’s Alumni Engagement Council.

“Emotions are part of being human, if we acknowledge it or not,” Meade said to the audience of about 25 people. “Emotions are messages. Each emotion has a story behind it.”

Meade started her presentation by handing out a list of several hundred emotions on a piece of paper. Then she asked the attendees to check in and share how they were feeling. Some people were frazzled because of their commute coming to the event, others were anxious to share in front of a group of strangers. But most expressed excitement to learn more about what Meade had to share.

Meade explained that, as humans, we’re always in an emotional state. The emotions themselves are never bad; they offer an opportunity to identify what story we’re telling ourselves.

She led the group through a series of examples. If you’re feeling frustrated at work because your colleagues are making mistakes or missing deadlines, what is causing that frustration? Meade explained that frustration results when people aren’t meeting our expectations. She wondered aloud whether the solution is to make sure your colleagues are aware of expectations and were they agreed upon?

When people feel anxiety, they’re not accepting uncertainty. They don’t believe they’ll be able to cope if “x” happens. If they feel anger, they sense that something unfair has happened. They have a strong sense that justice needs to happen.

After several examples, Meade took the group through an exercise to move through negative emotions. She asked the group to relax in their chairs and close their eyes.

“Think about a stressful situation you’re currently experiencing or have experienced for a while,” she said. “Make it a difficulty of seven or eight.”

She asked the group to get curious. “Notice how you feel, how is your breath? Do you feel any tension? What story are your telling yourself?”

Once she had let people feel that emotion, she moved them on to thinking about something for which they are deeply grateful.

“Each emotion only stays in your body for 90 seconds,” she said. “It’s the avoiding and repressing that makes them stuck.”

“I enjoyed having a reminder that emotions are what make us human, whether that’s in the workplace or at home,” said Allyson Lindsey (BSACC 2013; MACC 2014). “Julia told us that there are brain cells in the heart and gut, in addition to the brain, which is why you sometimes feel emotions in your gut. She recommended placing your hand on your stomach 2 inches below your belly button to recognize the emotion and ‘let it pass through you.’ As someone who often feels the emotional impacts from working with others, I found this advice particularly helpful.”

Robin McCaffery (BSAcc 1980) attended the event and joined the School of Accountancy Alumni Engagement Council in 2011.

“I think presentations like this are valuable to continue our education after we leave the University,” she said. “It also fosters a continued relationship with the University and fellow alumni.”

Meade encouraged the audience to notice their emotions more and listen to them.

“Go for a walk, listen to music, write them down,” she said. “Journey to discover what works for you.”