August 13, 2009

Managing anxiety in the age of uncertainty

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment at 3:54 am by dinaheng

It was nearly midnight when I got into the taxicab at Boston’s Logan International Airport. When I asked the driver to take me to a nearby hotel, he couldn’t help but express his frustration.

“I’ve been waiting in line for two and a half hours for a fare, and now I have to take you to the closest place I’m required to drive to,” he said, angrily. “Business has gone down to nothing since the first of August.”

Ten minutes later, after I paid the $25 fare and tip, he pulled my suitcase out of the trunk, dropped it in the middle of the street and drove off. The street was deserted at that hour, so I hurried into the hotel, glad to be away from his negative energy.dinah-eng-21

Every year, I attend the national convention of the Asian American Journalists Association, a gathering of professional colleagues in the news media industry. The topic on everyone’s mind is, “Am I going to have a job tomorrow?”

As the Internet has opened new channels of communication, traditional media companies have lost many print readers and broadcast viewers. Media companies, like many industries, have undergone massive reorganizations — laying off workers and consolidating operations — while searching for a new business model for their products.

Journalists, like everyone we write about, are worried about the economy and job security. As the Internet has forced us to deal with constant change, job security has become non-existent. Change is becoming the new “business as usual,” and for many, constant change has created constant anxiety.

In the current economy, anxiety has permeated most everyone’s life. Whether you’re a worried journalist or an angry cab driver, it’s important to deal with those feelings before you get overwhelmed.

Ron Brown, president of Banks Brown, a management consultant firm in San Francisco that specializes in developing strategies to manage changing organizational culture, says coping with unrelenting anxiety is a needed skill in today’s world.

“Anxiety is a hidden source of strength,” Brown says. “It forces us to make choices. Managing your anxiety is a key component of maintaining your equilibrium. The question becomes how do you live with anxiety and convert it to something positive?”

Brown offers several tips:

* Enrich and utilize your personal relationships for personal support. “This is a time to look outward, beyond the workplace,” Brown says.

* Every day, factor in some activity that gives you pure, personal pleasure.

* If maintaining your routine is reassuring, do that. If you’re in a routine rut, get out and explore some things you haven’t done. “It can be as simple as driving a new route to work,” Brown says. “Use your anxiety to vary your routine.”

* Plan moments of laughter. “Laughter is one of the greatest relievers of stress,” Brown notes. “Got see a funny movie, or rent a DVD of a comedy series. Make sure you get a steady diet of laughter, which creates more endorphins in the body to combat stress.”

* Manage your workload, and manage your time. “A lot of people who constantly communicate on their BlackBerries are just trying to manage their anxiety,” he observes. “Examine your assumptions about work, and realize that there’s an abundance of time.”

* Get 8 hours of sleep every night to ensure enough rest for the body to remain healthy.

* Be aware of your spirituality. “Whether it’s meditative yoga, church, synagogue or personal prayer, be mindful that there’s a Source in life greater than yourself,” Brown says. “You’ll be more patient with what’s happening around you. As things swirl around, it’s much more imperative to stay centered inside.”

As long as we are alive, we are always in transition to somewhere. We may stop now and then to breathe, thinking that things have finally ”come back to normal.” But the truth is, the next change is always around the corner.

We must learn to take deep, steady breaths throughout life, and remember to enjoy the journey, for now is all there is. Even when we’re dumped in the middle of a street at midnight.

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