Overcoming Fear in the Face of Uncertainty
For many, the future is feeling increasingly wary; recent Wall St. forecasts turned out to be overly optimistic and economists are reporting the recession risk has spiked
The collective climate of angst can send our amygdala into overdrive. It’s the prehistoric part of our brain that is obsessed with fear. Often called the lizard brain, your amygdala’s primary concern is keeping us safe from threats.
Yet, that part of our brain isn’t always helpful at work; an over-active amygdala can inhibit creativity, strategic thinking, and building relationships. While we know that these practices are crucial for a fulfilling career, in the face of (seemingly) impending doom, it’s harder to foster these longer-term skills.
Here are three tips to help you calm your fear and approach this next season with confidence:
Focus on what is staying the same.
In 2009, my husband and I went through a bankruptcy. The commercial sign-manufacturing company we owned (and had over-paid for the year prior) went under during the recession. It was a painful time, but one thing that helped me was to point my brain to what wasn’t going to change.
I was sleeping in the same bed every night. I had dinner with my family at the same table (albeit, boxed mac-n-cheese). Yes, I needed to think about my future differently. But I had a bedrock that wasn’t going anywhere. Even if your physical circumstances may change, focus on the constants, like supportive friends, a creative mind, the ability to keep learning, etc. This mental security blanket can ease some of your anxiety and buoy your confidence in times of uncertainty.
Don’t miss the (potential) upside.
I read an essay years ago by longtime Sesame Street writer Emily Perl Kingsley. The essay was
about how when we get overly attached to a picture in our mind (of a certain family, career trajectory, life) and that picture changes, we often fail to see the beauty in the new picture.
She equated it to being on a plane and thinking you’re going to Italy. Then the plane lands, and surprise, you’re in Holland! This place wasn’t where you planned on being. You didn’t buy a guidebook and you don’t speak the language. But if you take a moment to look around, you’ll see beautiful fields of tulips, and windmills. Sure, it’s not as glamorous and pasta is in short supply, but this unanticipated place is beautiful too, just in a different way. If you spend your entire time upset that you’re not in Italy, you’ll have missed it.
Even if you’re caught off guard, and things aren’t going as you planned, there’s likely beauty in the unfolding. I think back to my own 2009 experience. Even if we had lumped our business through the recession, I wouldn’t be as prosperous or as happy as I am now. While it was highly stressful at the time, that painful experience built my resilience muscle and prompted strategic thinking that wound up creating something even better.
Find examples of strength.
For a large portion of the workforce (those under 30ish) this may be the first time they’ve faced major uncertainty. And if it is your first time, you might not be confident that you can survive it. But I’m here to tell you that you can survive uncertain, and even negative conditions, just as the millions of people before you have.
If you’re struggling to find your own confidence, look for strength in other people. Read from people who turned a layoff into a new business venture or who turned a health scare into a calling. People who built purpose from a pile of pieces. It can, and always has been, done.
I don’t know what’s ahead. I’m inclined to think that the fears of recession, economic downturn, and mass layoffs are somewhat manufactured (and highly exaggerated) by the crisis-inclined media. We’ve always lived with uncertainty. At times we delude ourselves to believe we can predict things. The reality is no one knows for sure what will or won’t happen in the future.
We’re only in control of ourselves. How we manage our brains through times of uncertainty will determine what we experience on the other side.