Behaving in a way that is different from how we actually feel can be very stressful, both physically and emotionally. Human beings seem to be unique within the animal kingdom regarding how much time we spend masking our true emotions and thoughts. This need to “fake it” can be especially true when we go to work.

Of course for most of us earning money is important, and few people want to add losing their job or faltering within their career to their list of problems. It can be hard to ‘shift gears’ in order to function in a work environment. It can become even more difficult when going through a major illness, or caring for someone who is, dealing with a romantic break-up, or recovering from the death of a loved one.

Here is an example from my own life. Since I am a personal fitness trainer, the ‘persona’ I need to convey is: powerful, athletic, focused and upbeat. Well, those are the last ways a person feels while in the depths of a grief experience. These past years, there were many times I was helping clients while actually feeling really, really sad.

Would anyone pay to see a fitness trainer who sat hunched over during an exercise session and asked, “What is the point? We are all going to die anyway?” Not so much.

Most careers are difficult to do well during troubled times. How about a doctor who needs to tell his patients they have cancer, or whichever other serious ailment, while they themselves or a family member is also sick? Do we want our airline pilots or people driving trucks and buses working when they are upset? Parents often need to console and uplift their children while they themselves are scared or in mourning. How about a therapist or wedding planner who is going through their own divorce?  Sometimes it is just a matter of “fake it until you make it.” That is kind of how our economy works. For how long can we pretend, and what are the costs to our well-being?

Physically it is a strain for the body to hold back strong feelings and tears. It becomes difficult to breath deeply as we constrict our throats and clamp the jaw to withhold our honest emotions.

Mentally it can be confusing to try and turn on and off our feelings and thoughts as if they were hot and cold running water.

One of the best healing techniques I have discovered to deal with the circumstance of needing to go to work during a challenging time is something I call: The Transition Ten. “The Transition Ten” means to take at least ten minutes to adjust before and after going into any environment where it is not appropriate to behave as you truly feel.

Find the most quiet and private place available, perhaps in your parked car, or even the rest room. Some people may want to go for a walk around the block to ‘clear their head’. I like to breath slowly and gently while placing the palms of my hands over my eyes to relax the muscles of my face, turn inward for a moment and provide myself with comfort. You can personalize the ritual to best suit your own circumstance.

During the first few minutes of ‘The Transition Ten’ it is best to try and relax as much as possible. Next it is important to realize, “I am about to make a transition from my current mental and emotional state into a different one.” It may be useful to coach oneself a bit, for example thinking: “I realize that I am still upset about (whichever problem…). It is time to go to work now and I need to focus on being skillful. If it is possible to take more breaks than usual I will, otherwise, I just need to get through it.”

It can be helpful to know how to put on a ‘mask’ occasionally in order to function, but it is very important to remember that it is there and needs to be removed. It is great to take at least ten minutes at the end of a work experience to review what happened and congratulate oneself for any part of the day that went well.

Need more examples of people struggling to get through a day at work?

Check out this video of Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters going to their jobs as talk show hosts the day after their close friend Patrick Swayze passed away. They are trying to be ‘professional’ although it is clear that they can barely make it to the end of the show before releasing their deeper reactions to his death. Even Patrick Swayze’s wife of 34 years, Lisa Nieme also a public figure, is smiling and looking beautiful while trying not to cry.

This blog was republished with permission from

Written by Margo Rose
Margo Rose has been a fitness trainer for over 15 years and specializes in practical ways to manage loss, stress or disappointment. Margo Rose's book, Body Aware Grieving, A Fitness Trainer's Guide to Caring for Your Health During Sad Times is available on Amazon.

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  1. I agree with this article. Totally what I am going through. Most times, not just at work I feel fake. Fake smile for this world…

  2. My life is so different than it was and still more different being a caregiver. Now I’m starting over getting back into the workforce. What I do is talk about my life and what is going on so my fellow employees know and understand. That transition time? Now I understand why I don’t listen to the radio in my car going to or coming from work. That’s my quiet time. My transition time. Thanks for writing this. It helps and explains a lot.


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