Friday, September 18, 2009

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

Losing a job, for whatever reason, is a life-altering event on many different levels –familial, professional, financial, behavioral, social (etc.) –and affects people in many different ways. For most, however, there are certain experiences that should be simply taken as givens:

1. There will be some degree of worry and/or stress.

2. There will be some level of interest in knowing who is (and is not) going through a similar experience.

3. There will be some people in your life who –for whatever reason –feel the need to constantly update you on how much worse things are than you thought. (I’ve lovingly dubbed these people naysayers, voices of doom, and town criers.)

4. There will be a point in time, however brief, when you experience self-doubt, lowered self-esteem and/or decreased self-confidence.

5. At some point, it will take more of an effort than usual to keep up the social and professional relationships you had when employed, and to continue in your professional extracurricular activities.

In moderation, all of these experiences are completely normal and to be expected given the circumstances (i.e., job loss). It is only when they get in the way of moving forward towards accomplishing your goals that it becomes a problem. The following are some examples of self-defeating actions which should be avoided at all costs:

· WORRYIN’ NEVER CHANGED ANYTHING, SO DON’T GET STUCK ON THE WORRY TRAIN. If you have a lot of free time with nothing to do, that also gives you a lot of time within which to stress or worry. Fretting, worrying, and being stressed or anxious are all normal. There’s nothing wrong with doing any of those things, for a time. Just don’t get stuck there – it’s self-defeating.

· STEER CLEAR OF NAYSAYERS, VOICES OF DOOM, & TOWN CRIERS. While there is certainly comfort in knowing that you are far from alone in this situation, be careful not to spend all of your time dwelling on the negative, as opposed to working towards a goal. Avoid those people who can’t seem to talk about anything other than the state of the economy, lawyer layoffs, unemployment, firm closings, decreases in available jobs, and the like. While I am in no way suggesting that you should avoid discussing what happened to you, I am cautioning against not being able to move beyond it. Also, there will always be those people who tell you all the reasons why you can’t do something, instead of supporting you in your efforts to make an attempt to accomplish your goal. Avoid such naysayers and surround yourself with supportive people.

· DON’T BECOME A SLAVE TO THE MEDIA. This serves no useful purpose other than to stress you out and keep you coming back for more. The media is more likely to give reports focused on the bleak, tragic, downtrodden, and hopeless (from its skewed perspective), than the positive, successful, hopeful, and victorious. That’s just the way it is. While you should absolutely keep abreast of what’s going on around you and what opportunities may lay out there for you, you can accomplish this by quickly skimming your media outlets for this information.

· ACCEPT THE SITUATION, BUT DON’T BE LABELED BY IT. It goes without saying that being unemployed is quite a humbling experience. Use it as a life lesson –absolutely –and if you come out wiser and stronger for it, then you have come out the victor. However, remember that being laid off doesn’t define who you are, or what you’re about. Indeed, it is no reflection whatsoever of your value. Nor is it an indictment of your worth. It’s merely a temporary place called unemployment, which you’ll soon depart.

· DON’T BE M.I.A. Very important: Make sure people know where you are and how to contact you! Often people give their work addresses to bar associations and others as their preferred contact method. After leaving a place of employment, however, they forget to update the bar associations with their new contact information, so they no longer receive notifications of any relevant and/or free course, program, and other bar association offerings. You don’t want to stop getting this information –stay connected. Be sure to also update your alumni offices (law school, college) of your whereabouts because some of them are offering programs as well.

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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