Feeling a bit anxious lately? Worrying about everything from the light bill to world peace? Waking up at 3am with the worry dragons breathing down your neck?
Allow me to begin by stating the obvious: the past 18 months have been an unprecedented time of anxiety for the majority of Americans. Between job losses, national security and business scandals it can all add up to feeling as though you have lost control of your destiny.
But, hold the phone for good news! During my years of consulting with individuals facing job adversity (company bankruptcy, termination, health issues) I have identified four specific steps that can help you prioritize your worries and regain control of your outlook and, ultimately, regain control of your destiny.
Big results can come from a little focused effort. Although these suggestions are not earth shattering, they can make the difference between fighting the 3am dragons on a nightly basis or slaying them and actually getting a good night’s sleep. Let’s begin.
MAKE A LIST OF WHAT YOU CAN and CANNOT CONTROL
Begin by acknowledging that there are areas of your life you can control, and those you cannot. Some suggestions:
You have tremendous control over your attitude, fitness level, daily finances, personal decisions, morals, job performance, and your behavior as a partner, a parent and a friend.
You have no control over the outcome of the stock market, whether or not someone likes you, past decisions (I should have taken that job with ABC Company instead of DEF, Inc.), whether someone shares your opinion about an important issue, or whether there is going to be another natural or man-made catastrophe.
Put this list in your wallet, or tape it to the refrigerator door. Revisit the list whenever you feel yourself fixating on something you cannot control and strive to refocus your energies onto an area you can control.
HOLD REGULAR WORRY MEETINGS
One of the main reasons for the (sometimes incredibly) intensive family stress during difficult times is because families do not take the time to communicate in a structured manner.
It is important to recognize that we all worry and grieve in different ways. Some people need to talk, some people need silence, and still others may feel the need to spend large amounts of time involved in an outside activity (sports, volunteer work, etc.). None of these ways is wrong they are simply different. It is vital that you allow your partner (and other family members) to worry and grieve in a way that best suits them. (Initially anyway; you don’t want anyone sitting in a dark room for more than a day or two, or someone who has lost a job to play golf every day for three weeks!)
But, no matter how you worry, or what type of worrier you are sharing your life with, one of the most important steps towards reclaiming control is to verbalize fears and then gather ideas for weathering the current storm. Towards this goal you need to plan regular Worry Meetings.
Set a time for you and your partner to have your first Worry Meeting. (If you are single you should still conduct these meetings. I regularly use this process when I have a business decision only I can make.)
Prior to your first meeting each partner should make a list of primary worries. At the beginning of the first meeting, exchange lists. After reading each other’s list take fifteen minutes each (no longer or you will simply be repeating yourself) to clarify your main worries.
After clarification, the next exercise is to merge and prioritize your lists. Once this is done you will have concrete items upon which to focus instead of vague feelings of worry and fear. This concrete list offers a blueprint to help you decide on a specific plan-of-action to begin to minimize or alleviate the merged worries.
For purposes of example, let’s assume you are married, one income (brought in by Partner A), two children and Partner A has recently lost his/her job. Initial individual lists may look like this:
Partner A’s Worry List
Do I find just any type of interim job or should I look at developing another long-term skill to make me less dependent on my professional field (should I go back to school)?
Partner B’s Worry List
Child-care while working.
Mortgage and health insurance payments must be met and we will strive to have one parent home for child-care. Towards these goals we will:
Review medical insurance options. Is there a policy that allows adults to be covered for catastrophic illness, but offers full coverage for children?
Partner A will focus on finding a full-time job. Partner B will be in charge of the kids each morning from 9am to Noon while Partner A conducts his/her job search.
Although finding full-time employment for Partner A is the main priority, Partner B must begin to search for a part-time job. The part-time pay needs to pay at least enough to cover monthly medical insurance payments. Partner B will have 1pm to 3pm to pursue part-time job opportunities.
We both acknowledge that the most important goal is to find jobs. This might mean taking a job that does not necessarily appeal to us as a long-term career.
After our short-term goals are met, we will then begin to investigate long-term jobs or opportunities that will make us less dependent on our current industry, however, allowing Partner A to return to his/her profession is a priority.
We will not worry about our savings account balance until mortgage and medical benefits are secured.
If your current financial picture is not discussed at your first Worry Meeting make it a priority to review your finances, together, as soon as possible. (Recently a woman complained to me that she couldn’t get her husband to sit down with her and review their retirement plans; consequently, she was a nervous wreck about their finances.) Make a list of areas where cutting expenses will be easiest (make coffee at home each morning instead of going out, do in-home manicures, etc.).
Outside of these meetings keep discussions of your worries to a minimum.
HAVE FAMILY GATHERINGS
It is absolutely imperative that you set aside time each week to spend leisure time with your partner and your family. During these gatherings agree not to discuss finances, your job search, etc. Do an activity you all enjoy and agree to keep conversations positive.
Make a game out of who can come up with the cheapest and most fun family activity.
MAINTAIN YOUR FITNESS
Regular exercise seems to offer people the ability to handle adversity with greater ease. Whether you take a ½ walk or run 10 miles each morning doesn’t seem to matter. Many individuals find exercise a time of quiet contemplation. It is not unusual to uncover some of your best solutions during exercise. (If it is difficult to find time to exercise during the day take a walk, as a family, after dinner instead of watching TV.)
In ending, allow me one more obvious observation: nothing is certain but change. Although the circumstances surrounding this recent downturn are very different than anything we’ve ever experienced in recent memory one fact remains: we have all faced adversity before and triumphed; there is no reason why we can’t continue our track record of success!
Cheryl Cage is President of Cage Consulting and the author of Calm in the Face of Conflict and Your Job Search Partner. You may reach her at www.cageconsulting.com