Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Fear Factor

I have a friend who works for one of the Big Three Automakers. We talked recently and she told me about the paralyzing fear that many of her co-workers have. Many of them have been with the company for decades and they don’t know what to do. With all that’s going on fear is a natural reaction but my friend told me that many of her co-workers have let fear consume them to the point where it has paralyzed them.

They are scared to look for something else because in many cases, this has been what they’ve known for so long that they are scared to take a chance somewhere else. At the same time, they are scared to stay where they are and they live throughout each day with the painful anxiety that comes while they wait for the axe to fall.

Another friend of mine is with a company that is downsizing. Yet, she’s scared to even look for something else. She knows her lack of a degree will prevent anyone from hiring her. So she stays put, not even exploring any other options. She hopes the 16 weeks of severance she thinks she’ll get will be enough.

None of us are immune from the power of fear. A few months ago, I made a very short-sighted financial move. The thing is; I knew it was a bad idea. But I was so scared of not doing anything and I felt I had to do something, so I made the move and continue to pay for the consequences months later.

Fear can be a debilitating, nerve-wrecking, soul-churning experience. What if’s snowball each one pessimistically worse than the one before it. It’s a quote that I’ve used before, “95% of the things we fear never come to pass.” Yet, the feeling of fear, the emotion of it, can be so strong that logical thinking is the first casualty of that snowball as it gains speed careening down that hill.

Granted, these are fearful times. Recession. Job losses and the threat of more job losses, the housing market, the stock market, there are real and legitimate things to fear. Yet we (me too) cannot let those fears get the better of us. So what can we do?

  1. Get It Out. Confide in a good friend. Someone who can calm you do and point out the things that aren’t so bad. Maybe someone who can also help you sort through your options.
  2. Look Up. Focus on the positive. A few months ago, I started keeping a gratitude journal. At the end of everyday, I write down things that occurred during that day that I am thankful and grateful for and appreciative of. Curiously, when I was in the midst of my own panic, I didn’t journal on those days. I wonder if I had, would changed my perspective enough to stop me from making the mistake I made.
  3. Do something proactive and productive. My friend’s lack of a degree will prevent several companies from taking a serious look at her. But she’s got an impressive work history and a lot of companies can look past the degree to what she’s done and give her a chance. She won’t know that until she tries though.
  4. Calm down. Pray. Talk to a friend. Do yoga. Take a walk. Cry. Do something to release some of that fearful emotion. You might not get rid of all of it but you might be able to take it down to a manageable level.

These are fearful times, indeed. But they weren't always so stressful and frustrating and they won't always be stressful and frustrating. As a friend told me, the only way to get through it is to go through it. So let's be kind to ourselves and support one another as we navigate our ways through these rough waters.


The Conservative Sage said...

My fear is just the opposite: I am scared that I might stay at my job.

Karyn Beach said...

I've had that fear. The fear that everything will remain the same and nothing will change. In other words, you fear being stuck. To me, that can be a very motivational fear because when you are that scared of the status quo, it compels you to do something. Just be sure, in your race to get out of your current situation, you don't run into something that could be even worse.