I recently received a query from a Pause reader who is part of an organization in the midst of downsizing. Although she, herself, knows that she will continue to have her job, many co-workers find themselves in different circumstances.
For those who have learned that they will leave, there is some sense of relief in being in the know – and being able to start making plans.
Others do not yet know their fate, and may not know for some time. A few have learned they will need to compete for their own positions. For these individuals, the situation is precarious. She wonders how to support her colleagues who find themselves in limbo.
There’s no one size fits all answer to that question. Different people respond to uncertainty in different ways. Some are devastated and immobilized by it, while others take it in their stride. Most of us fall somewhere in between.
It can be tough to be a bystander in the lives of others who are hurting, and not sure how to help.
Action: Should you find yourself in this kind of situation, here are a handful of helpful practices to undertake yourself and encourage in others.
- Some people need an ear for their fear and a shoulder for their boulder, so offer yours. Expressing concern and offering support is a way of opening an invitation to unload the burdens. Just be there and listen. No problem solving, no advice, no cheerleading required. Just pure presence.
- In the absence of information try not to make up your own. Stories, rumors, and gossip are all just that. Don’t scare yourself or each other unnecessarily. If you must write stories about future state, you might as well make them bright and uplifting rather than dark and despairing.
- Attempt to live more fully in the moment. Take pleasure in the people and experiences right here, right now. When the mind wanders to ‘oh no’s and what if’s’ gently return it to the present. A little mindfulness meditation practiced formally or informally can go a long way to easing the pressure.
- Get a move on. Physical activity and exercise are a proven way to cope with generalized anxiety. Invite someone for a walk or a run. Swim a few laps at the pool. Kick around a soccer ball with the kids.
- Recall past experiences in which uncertainty has been managed and setbacks have been overcome. This will remind you of strengths and coping skills that are available, tested and known to work.
- Humor of all kinds – even black humor – can help put things in perspective. Never underestimate the healing power of those laughter endorphins.
- Control what you can. Tap into a few everyday activities where you are in charge. File the piles, wash a floor, or clean out the garage. These actions take very little mental energy, lead to a feeling of accomplishment, and put scattered energies to use.
- Surround yourself with beauty. Get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine or the rain shower. Listen to favorite music that lifts your spirits.
- Take advantage of positive distractions. The antics of small children, the affection of pets, the absorption of a good movie can all provide relief and engagement.
- Dip into a helpful read. I’m a fan of Pema Chodron’s writing including two of her books, When Things Fall Apart and Comfortable With Uncertainty.
- Invest in a bit of worst-case scenario testing, and back up planning. It never hurts to take stock of your skills, polish up a resume, reach out to your network, or do a little pencil and paper ciphering to get a real bead on financial status and options.
- And finally, see if you can possibly, in your heart of hearts, find one tiny seed of good about the situation in which you find yourself.
PS – Kudos to the reader who raised this question. Your colleagues are lucky to have someone with your caring spirit in their lives.
Quote Of The Week: “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity. ” – Gilda Radner
Here’s a bonus link to a thought-provoking collection of quotes from literature about the pros and cons of uncertainty.
Resource Of The Week: Here’s a helpful article with more ideas for coping with the stress of uncertainty: Psychiatrist Offers Simple Steps for Coping With Uncertainty by James Gordon.
Readers Write: In response to last week’s message, Are You Thunking Or Thinking, Pause reader TT writes:
And one more time your timing is superb! My boss and I are attempting to make some pretty radical changes to how we do business in our office. We are both fairly new while the staff has been here for years. The amount and rate of change is overwhelming them, and they are reverting to the familiar processes that just are not working.
What I’m finding is that as the stress and pace increases, they go back to ‘flying into the window’ behavior. I want them to help me revise what we need to be doing, and I want to use your article in rethinking our actions. Thanks for the help along the way you give to all of us reading your messages.
PS – Thanks to all the readers who shared your ‘spare the robin’ solutions, and especially to ED who sent this link by way of explanation.