Stage 2: Fear and Panic

m3.jpgJohn, a former merchandising manager, describes how vulnerable he felt when his shock and denial dissipated, and he entered the next stage of the Emotional Wave™. "I bought bolt locks for my home and had an alarm installed on my car. It seemed like everyone, everywhere I went, was looking at me. I was always looking over my shoulder, waiting for the next personal disaster to occur. It was like constantly sitting in an electric chair and waiting to be zapped again and again, without warning."

Once the first numbness wears off, fear and panic are likely to take over your thoughts. Because you've suffered a setback in your professional life, you feel vulnerable to attack from other fronts. You feel a generalized sense of dread, and even relatively insignificant items and events can become menacing.

Tom, an aerospace engineer, explains how he obsessed about the heater in his house while he was out of work. "Whenever the furnace blower came on, I thought of the expense. How long will the furnace run, I wondered, and how much will it cost? Tom never even gave his heating expenses a thought while he was employed, and now they haunted him.

Unemployment certainly brings with it a host of valid concerns. But during the fear and panic stage, you spend much of your time and energy "catastrophizing" about such issues as:

  • What if I have to declare bankruptcy?
  • Will I lose everything I own?
  • Will my family and friends abandon me?
  • Is this the end of my career?
  • Will any employer ever give me another chance?
Your fear and panic may also lead to indecisiveness. Every choice takes on an exaggerated importance, and you feel as though the world will end if you make the wrong decision. For example, Jay, who lost his job as a software engineer, remembers how much of an ordeal it was for him to figure out what to wear each day. "I'd change my shirt and tie ten times, and then go back to the ones I had on originally." Each time he hesitated, Jay felt as though his indecision only proved he was a loser, and of course that made it even tougher for him to trust his own instincts.

Rampant fear, panic, and indecision are typical responses to losing your job. Nothing could be more natural than to worry about the future when your livelihood has just been snatched away from you and you don't know what tomorrow will bring. However, uncontrolled and disproportionate fright can quickly drain your time and energy, and immobilize you, if you let it.

Coping With Fear and Panic

The key to both minimizing and surviving "fear and panic" is to put your concerns back into perspective. Denying or repressing your worries won't work, but neither will agonizing about them incessantly. So confront your fears on a reasonable timetable. Give yourself a "worry period" -say, fifteen minutes long - each day, and restrict your worrying to that time slot. If you catch yourself slipping up and fretting about the future outside of the designated time slot, stop. Make an "appointment" to deal with it later, during your sanctioned worrying time.

  • Another fear-halting strategy is to list your worries on a sheet of paper. Write down every gloomy unemployment scenario you can think of - from "I'll never find another job as long as I live" to "My spouse will divorce me, and I'll be left all alone." Then, when you've committed all your fears to paper, decide which ones have a basis in reality and which others you can instantly dismiss. Strike the latter, which will undoubtedly include most of your "what if" worries, from your list. You'll then have a set of reasonable concerns that you can rehearse confronting and resolving, in case the time comes when you must do so.
  • If you're having trouble making decisions, limit the time you give yourself to choose. Give yourself, say, two minutes to make an A/B choice - such as should you or shouldn't you make a phone call - and then stick with your decision. Take a step back from the problem, if you can, and consider it. You'll probably find that few choices you make are of the "forever" variety. In all likelihood, you'll get a chance to rectify any mistakes you happen to make, so it's okay to forge ahead for now.

©Copyright 2008 Professionals In Transition Support Group, Inc. 

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