How Fear Can Help Your Job Search

fear at workBy Vickie Elmer

Be very, very afraid – and use that scary energy to propel you onward.

We are not talking about a trip to a haunted house or some kids throwing tomatoes at your car. We are talking about being laid off, or the possibility of losing your job faster than a vampire could rip out your throat. Asked what makes them fearful at work, more than a third of workers said fear of layoffs, according to a new CareerBuilder / Harris Interactive survey. (Pay cuts were the second most scary workplace concern, while presenting in front of others and workload tied for third.)

It's a real fear: Almost 1.3 million Americans have lost their paychecks in mass layoffs in the first nine months of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

No matter what their career choice, people experience two kinds of fear – the well-founded fear of something threatening right in their path and anxiety, which shows up more vaguely and with less immediacy – the threat of layoffs.

"Fear essentially is energy, typically adrenaline that motivates us to take action," said Larina Kase, a business psychologist and co-author of several books including Anxious 9 to 5.

An optimal amount of fear can motivate us to take action, but too much and we may end up stuck, paralyzed with fear, she said. Yet it can be managed and even turned to a motivator.

Kase suggests these steps:

  • Understand your fear. Pay attention to the moments when you feel anxious, and what thought flitted through your mind. Then consider the ideas or values or themes behind those thoughts – perhaps a sense of responsibility for your family or worry about losing your home.

  • Come up with a plan. Ask yourself: "How will I handle this?" Consider some alternatives for work, for bringing in money. Give yourself time to come up with solutions. If you're having trouble with this, "do something invigorating first," like exercise or listening to your favorite music, she said.

  • Draw your resilience and confidence. Recall difficulties you handled in the past. Remember the results you achieved and the value you offer. Write down your strengths. Ask people to remind you of your talents.

  • Accept its place in your life. Don't spend your energy trying to fight off fear. "Harness it rather than push it away," said Kase, and focus on what you need to, not the anxiety or concern. Accept that butterflies are normal and move right into the next right steps for yourself.

Sometimes it helps to see "Freddie Fear" as a sarcastic slightly evil friend, who can both encourage you to sit before the TV all afternoon, and motivate you to write that next cover letter and move forward in your life. And remember, he is friends with many, many others who are at the networking event or job fair – so they probably won't even notice when you show up with him tagging along.

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