A number of years ago I was part of the “dot bomb” series of layoffs at a company. Anxious about when and where I would find work, I kept imagining the worst. In an effort to chill me out, a friend of mine offered me this tidbit, “You’re not going to starve.”
And it was true. I wouldn’t starve. I wouldn’t be homeless. I might have to cut back on expenses, but I wasn’t going to starve, be thrown out and living under a bridge or sleeping in doorways. Knowing that — actually, believing it — calmed me down. More importantly, I started to appreciate that I was a lot better off than many people, and I was truly grateful.
Here are the three pitfalls that we tend to fall into when we are out of work, and some strategies for climbing out. Hope they help you manage the anxiety so you can find ways to be more productive.
1. Future Tripping
When we aren’t working, it’s really easy to imagine the worst, especially if we were caught by surprise when we were let go. I don’t know about you, but I have an active imagination, and when I’m anxious, I can be really “imaginative” about all the misfortunes that could happen to me.
In other words, I trip out on what might happen and spend so much time tripping out on the future that I’m not in the present. If I pause to think about it, my present usually isn’t actually that bad. It’s the anxiety about what’s possible, not the reality of the moment, which makes me miserable. Make sense?
So, what can you do? Breathe.
I know, it sounds simple, but focusing on breathing stops the well-worn neural highway to hell. All you have to do is inhale and count to five. Pause at the top of the breath, and then let it out slowly to a count of seven. You want the outbreath to take longer than the in-breath because it calms down the central nervous system. Don’t ask me why. Just do it. It helps.
Then, instead of focusing on all the bad things that could happen, make a list of five to 10 things that are good in your life right now. Right now. Number 1 is that you’re breathing. See, only nine more to go. ;)
2. Punishing Yourself by Not Having Any Fun
When I got laid off, I thought I shouldn’t have any fun. I thought I should punish myself for having been laid off, like I was responsible for the whole economy. I was partly worried other people might think I was being frivolous and not working hard enough at finding work if I took time out to … laugh.
But laughter really is the best medicine.
You’re allowed to have fun. Fun helps alleviate the anxiety, gets all the good chemicals in your brain charged up and can give your imagination something positive to think about. It can help shift your perspective and see possibilities that you can’t when you’re feeling blue.
Fun doesn’t have to be expensive. Kids have fun all the time and they don’t spend money to do it. Even when parents spend a lot of money the kids still want to bang on the pots and pans. So go ahead. Bang on your pots and pans. Be a kid.
3. Lack of Schedule
The greatest challenge for many of us after being laid off is that we have so much time to do absolutely nothing. It’s hard to get anything done when there’s no accountability, no schedule, endless amounts of time because you can always do it … later.
Ugh. I know. It’s hard to abide by a self-imposed schedule, so how can you create a schedule where you will be accountable to someone else?
When I was first getting my coaching business up and running and found that the isolation and lack of schedule was driving me nuts, I set up Google hangouts with another new coach. We’d get on the hangout for 5 minutes, and tell the other person what we were going to work on for the next 45 minutes. At the end of 45 minutes, we’d get back on the hangout to report back on what we’d done. It helped tremendously. Just be sure to choose someone who wants to be held accountable, too.
The bottom line is that you’ll find a job. You won’t starve. You won’t end up under a bridge. So, rather than focusing on what bad things could happen, consider this: What is perfect about this (whatever “this” is)? The answer may surprise you.
If you’re struggling to manage your anxiety about a job search or career transition, I’ve got a number of tools I can share. Email me to set up a complimentary coaching session.