The idea of employment today means many different things to many different people. Unfortunately, anxiety is a common factor to almost all of those many different kinds of people. Some worry about needing to find a second or third job, while some worry about losing the one they have, with others still worrying about finding one in the first place. Over time, this anxiety can become pervasive. It becomes all-consuming, and the anxiety goes from being about being unable to find a job or about keeping your current one to being the very force that threatens to cause these fears to come to bear. Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Whether or not that’s true is debatable, but what is certain is that fear itself is undoubtedly one of the greatest, if not the greatest, threats to human well-being ever encountered.
An article published a couple years ago in The Career Development Quarterly suggested mindfulness as a means to address this employment related anxiety. Mindfulness, as a whole, is the conscious practice of living and being in the present. Specifically, the article relates three parts of awareness through mindfulness that can be applied here, in order: stopping, observing and returning. When an anxiety-provoking cognition surfaces (e.g. “What if I lose my job?” or “How am I going to make ends meet?”), a good approach is to stop working on the task at hand and become aware of the thought as just that, a thought. Once you recognize it is a thought, something that is not actualized, you can observe this and other thoughts as they rise and fall. Rather than cling to them, and let them become sources of anxiety, recognize them as concerns, and let them pass. Once these fears have been seen for what they are, you can return to the task at hand, now without distraction.
The article wisely points out that mindfulness does not mean that one should strive to accept his or her lot without doing anything about it. Mindfulness, as a means of calming the mind, can allow many otherwise anxiety-wracked people to actually focus on creating a plan of action to address their own concerns, rather than have constant worry prevent cohesive action. Worrying by itself never solved anything; worries need to be put in their place, so to speak, so that we can be free to be constructive and positive within our daily lives.
A good way to introduce yourself to mindfulness is through breathing exercises. Simply sit in a quiet location, get comfortable, and begin to take full, but not overly deep, breaths, inhaling and exhaling regularly. Focus attention on only the breaths, but do not specifically try to clear your mind, or try to not think on purpose. You’ll find this to be counter-intuitive (read White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts, by Daniel Wegner, for more information). Keep your attention on the breath, and if a thought comes to mind, notice it, be aware of it, then let it go, calmly returning focus and attention to your breathing. If this exercise is made consistent practice, it can be a great way to promote familiarity with the idea of mindfulness, which makes it easily accessible whenever anxiety begins to take hold.
Anxiety is difficult to avoid today. The state of the economy isn’t great, and we live in a world that is constantly bombarded by news and media almost every second, both of which often tell us of things we simply wish didn’t need to be true. We need a revolution of optimism, a new positivity, in the face of today’s world, or as a people, our happiness will be horribly handicapped. The first step is to defeat our own anxiety by realizing that we are not powerless in the face of it.
Jacobs, S., & Blustein, D.. (2008). Mindfulness as a Coping Mechanism for Employment Uncertainty. The Career Development Quarterly, 57(2), 174-180. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from Alumni – Research Library. (Document ID: 1613664271).
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