You go virtual, then it’s three days in the office, and then it’s full-time at the office but Fridays at home. There’s an outbreak and then you are back home full-time again and then….you hear a rumor a big change is coming and your anxiety is back up to a 9 on a scale of 1-10.
You think of what it could be and your mind zeroes on layoffs. Then you seize the worst-case scenario and play it out in your mind and see yourself waiting in line at the foodbank to get boxed macaroni and cheese to feed your family, sure that you’re getting the ax. Next thing you know you can hardly concentrate.
That’s just one example of the constant change culture of today’s workplaces and how it preys on our minds. Add to that the financial stress of a see-saw economy and inflation, personal issues of managing life, and all that’s going on in the world news.
So how do we manage all of that?
1. Sit and reflect on your fears. Then take inventory of those fears.
The unknown stresses us out. But when you list what your fears are, how many of them are statistically likely to happen? What is the worst-case scenario? Can you live with the ones you’ve thought about? Are any of them so outlandish you can laugh at yourself?
Here’s what you need to know, intense emotions last 60-90 seconds so why not let it ride out instead of distracting yourself from it? You can do 90 seconds. It really won’t kill you. After the intensity calms, you can distract.
There is a DBT distress tolerance skill called “Riding the Wave” which is about identifying with your emotions without taking impulsive steps or reacting to them or making things worse. Like a tidal wave coming and going, you will get back to a place of calm rather than emotional turmoil. Before you tackle any kind of planning or change, you have to bring yourself back to a state of emotional stability first and that’s what this step is about.
Here’s an 10 second example:
2. Don’t fill in with misinformation or catastrophize.
First, understand that worrying about something that has not yet happened causes additional stress. Pre-worrying has never resolved anything. In short, it’s a waste of time. There is all that unknown which tends to push you toward a worst-case scenario and it’s the amygdala’s fault at least in part. The amygdala is part of the brain that scans your environment for threats and in some people, it’s conditioned to work overtime. So it’s always looking for the tiger crouched in the bushes waiting to eat you alive.
For example, if you are expecting someone to show up and they don’t, you might automatically decide they are lying in a ditch on the side of the road seriously injured, or that they don’t like you at all and therefore they’ve ditched you.
That is jumping to conclusions with little to no information.
There is a story about a university professor who freaked out after getting a threatening letter and for days didn’t sleep for fear the letter writers were crouched in the bushes and coming after him.
As he ruminated, the fears increased and he was afraid to leave the house. He got so afraid he googled “bodyguards for college professors” which ultimately triggered a moment of clarity. Then he started to laugh at himself. He realized he was creating his own stress triggered by this letter. Nothing bad happened to him. So take the opportunity to laugh at your own paranoia and where your mind lands because the scenarios can be crazy fabrications of your imagination.
If your imagination is that good, don’t waste it on catastrophizing.
3. Realize what you can control and what you can’t
You can’t control everything but you can control how you react to it.
Once you are able to shift your mindset from feeling out of control to understanding what you do have control over, you can start to think about how you can adapt and look for opportunities for yourself.
4. Build your coping strategies toolbox
If your typical habit is to eat a quart of ice cream or run to the bar, reflect on how that has not helped you in the past and make a pledge to manage this change differently. Numbing feelings tend to just put them on hold and create more problems.
So what are healthy coping strategies?
Some have to get outside, ride a bike, clean a house, talk to a friend, go on an angry hike, journal, or watch youtube videos on distress tolerance. The strategies you use are as individual as you are but as you add these skills to your toolbox, they’ll become ones you can use in other situations, building your overall resilience to change. And each change situation will then become easier to work through.
Know that the foundation of all this is eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and moving your body, just like it says on the back of that cereal box. Think now about what skills you have and make a pledge to use them.
6. Reframe the situation so you can embrace change.
Things are always changing and it helps if you set the expectation that they will happen and have coping strategies at the ready to manage your emotions when they do. Once you reach a place of emotional stability, you can then think about potential opportunities. Is it a signal to look for a new job, or shift internally? How have the changes opened up opportunities for you?
7. Don’t sit around and complain endlessly with co-workers
Endless griping doesn’t help. It makes you feel worse and I am going to assume this isn’t your goal. If you and a friend are engaging in a gripe session, set a time limit and then spend most of your time brainstorming opportunities together.
Just know that things don’t go back to “the way they used to be” and learning to adapt or accept change is an important skill for career advancement, leadership, and finding joy on the job.