Friday, September 11, 2009

Coping Mechanisms for Managing or Relieving Stress in the Wake, or in Fear, of Job Loss (4-Part Series) -- Part I: Shifting One's Perception

Almost everyone has a friend or family member who is contending with a layoff, between jobs, or who fears the same may be in their future. There is cold comfort in knowing that one is in the good company of others who share a similar fate, not by virtue of personal or professional shortcomings, but by an economy that has failed them. Even so, such a life-altering event can affect all dimensions of one’s life: finances, for sure, but also family and social relationships, self-esteem and self-confidence, energy, thought processes, and daily routines formerly structured and organized by work schedules. Losing a job, or delayed success in finding a job, is no small thing.
While stress in moderate amounts, or when adequately managed, provides motivation and drive, that is not the case when the stress is in excess. Stress has been described in the simplest of terms as resulting from the way in which one interprets and reacts to events. Accordingly, a person who changes her perception of a situation in a positive direction should, in turn, experience a decrease in stress. The following are suggestions for assisting in this perception shift, and ultimately for managing and relieving stress:
· THIS TOO SHALL PASS. Chances are you’ve been through worse times, and survived darker periods in your life, so keep it all in perspective. Reflect on some of those periods when you thought you just couldn’t make it through, and recall that in spite of everything, you did. You’re a survivor! The ability to cope or deal with adversity is not new to you. You’ve coped and adapted before in a myriad of situations, whether involving yourself or others –including clients! What would you do and advise if a client came to you with this situation? What would you say? It’s important to remember that transitions in whatever form are a natural part of our lifecycle, requiring adaptability and often, the ability to reinvent oneself. Some examples of life events triggering some form of reinvention include: becoming a new parent, divorce, dealing with a major illness (yours or that of someone close to you), having your child go off to college for the first time (empty nest syndrome), relocating to a new country/state/city/town, etc. No matter your situation, remember that things could always be a lot worse.

· CELEBRATE YOU! Reflect on all of your past accomplishments and significant experiences and milestones. Make a list of the things of which you are most proud and grateful. (i.e., birth of a child, wedding day, trial victory, high praise or compliments from colleagues on your delivery of a masterful argument, 1st time finishing a 5K race, watching your child take his/her first steps, the first time you hear your child say “dada” or “mama,” finally reaching the mountain top during a long and arduous climb, losing that final 5 pounds, graduating from college and law school, passing the bar exam, etc.). This should help to put things in perspective and remind you of just how great you are and how much you’ve achieved. Also, it will help you to remember that in the large scheme of things, this is but a blip on the radar. Whenever you feel yourself heading back towards the worry train, remember this list.

· FLIP THE SCRIPT! Rather than think of this as the worst thing that could have ever happened to you, flip the script and look at it as an incredible opportunity. Use the time to reevaluate where you are, both professionally and personally. In terms of the professional, are you doing what it is you really want to do? Too often, we become complacent in our day-to-day lives and forget about some of our dreams and goals. This is a perfect opportunity for you to reexamine your priorities and to take stock of where you are, and where you‘d like to be.

· THINK BABY STEPS OR SMALL, ACHIEVABLE GOALS –NOT LEAPS AND BOUNDS. When trying to lose weight, it is usually ill-advised to think in terms of how much you wish to lose all at once (i.e., 100 pounds). Instead, if you break down how much you want to lose into smaller, incremental portions (i.e., 10- or 20-pound increments), and then tackle it piece by piece, it’s much less daunting. This also allows you to enjoy periods of achievement throughout and it prevents you from having to wait a long time to celebrate an accomplishment. The same should be true of finding your next employment opportunity. If you break it up into small achievable goals, then it allows you to maintain momentum.

· BEEN THERE, DONE THAT. Try to remember that we, as a profession and as a nation, have weathered storms just like this one in the past, and we always get through it, just like we will this time. Nothing lasts forever –not even the current state of affairs.

Even with these coping mechanisms, you may still need professional help with getting through your stressful situation, which may seem overwhelming and all encompassing. THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING OR SEEKING HELP, SO PLEASE DO SEEK PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE WHEN SUCH STRESS, OR ISSUES SUCH AS ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, SUBSTANCE ABUSE, OR OTHER TROUBLING BEHAVIORS PERSIST. For assistance, please contact us at Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, Inc. (31 Milk Street, Suite 810, Boston, MA , (617) 482-9600,, or visit our website at Help can also be accessed through your: healthcare provider; local hospital; psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, clinician or other mental health professional; or community healthcare center.

See our web site Resource Page for a list of relevant stress resources.

Ms. Walcott presented this and other material in a program entitled, “Staying Positive in a Down Economy: Beyond The Group Hug” (June 30, 2009), which was part of the ABA’s Recession Recovery Teleconference Series. A download and course materials for this program are available online at

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