Let’s say you’ve just lost your job, had your pay cut, or discover that your company hired a new young hotshot in the same position as you. It’s likely that your mind instantly goes to worst-case scenarios. “The economy is bad, what if I can’t get another job.” “I’m really going to have to scrimp on my budget, but what if I can’t pay my bills?” “Am I too old to be hired or promoted?” Thoughts like that are natural. They’re an ancient survival mechanism. We all have a genetically ingrained response to focus on potential dangers, first and foremost. If you can plan for the worst, you’ve got a chance to survive.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with this strategy—it can really ramp up your fear and stress. In the best case, it might light a fire under you and motivate you to rise up and handle the challenge. However, it’s likely that this outlook will deflate you and leave you feeling uncertain at best and completely demoralized at worst. You may feel powerless and think that there is little you can do. If you already have a tendency to be insecure about your own skills and resources, the path downward is a slippery slope.
As a person who tends to over-rate the abilities of others and the potential for things to fall apart and under-rate my own resources and the potential for great things to happen, I’ve had to come up with some good strategies to counter these tendencies. I’d like to share them with you.
When things at work seem to be going against you, falling apart, or overwhelming you, you can call on these three mental turnarounds that instantly relieve job stress.
1. I’m basically O.K. right now.
Focusing on the present moment may be way too frequently stated, but it isn’t over-rated. If I can focus on how I am doing right now, at this exact moment, this can take an edge off my stress. For example, I am alive, breathing, and in no immediate danger. This is usually the case. In the case of job stress, it’s pretty much always the case for me.
So, take a few deep breaths, really emphasizing the exhale—and release your stress.
After a few deep breaths, I can usually see that what I am stressed about is something that could happen in the future, but hasn’t happened yet. Even if I just lost my job, the impending doom I’m imagining is likely out there in the future and hasn’t happened yet. I am basically O.K. right now, in this moment.
It can help to take a brief inventory of all the things that are O.K., or even good, right now in your life.
2. There are many possibilities in this situation.
After I’ve taken the edge off by realizing that I am basically O.K. right now, it can lift my mood another notch if I imagine that there are many possibilities in this situation. Rather than being locked in on one dire possibility that I dread, I open my mind to consider other possible outcomes.
Within every situation there are a wide variety of possible results. Instead of being stuck on a worst-case scenario, what else could happen? Out of those other possibilities, what ones might work well for me? Perhaps, I could find another job that is even better, supplement my income doing something I’ve always wanted to do part-time, or strike up a friendship with my new rival?
When you set your mind to it, you can imagine many possible outcomes in any situation. Seeing potential possibilities frees up your mind and lifts your mood another notch.
3. I can do something to move forward right now.
Finally, after I’ve realized that I am basically O.K. right now and there are many possibilities in this situation, I ask myself “What is one thing I can do right now to move toward one of those potentially positive outcomes?”
It’s amazing what can happen when you take one, small, positive action. For example, you might call your boss for a chat, come up with a new initiative that will save or make your company money and serve your clients better, or introduce yourself to your new rival and get to know them better. Taking action shifts you from feeling defeated to feeling empowered and less stressed.
I’d love to hear about mental turnarounds that work well for you when you are feeling job stress in the comments below.