The primary emotion I felt when I thought about quitting my job was fear.
I was afraid that…
- I would never find out what I was “meant” to be doing.
- I would pick the wrong thing, invest a lot of time/energy/money in it, and then get bored and feel trapped.
- I would disappoint the people in my life.
- I was wasting precious time because I couldn’t make a decision.
- I wouldn’t be able to find something that was satisfying and financially sustainable.
- If I did quit and take some time off, I’d run out of money before I figured things out.
- At heart, I was a flaky, lazy and irresponsible person.
- My skills were so specialized, I’d never be able to do anything else.
- I’d never have a better situation than the job I had right now.
It felt like things were falling apart and I didn’t know what to do.
I was in the middle of what Martha Beck calls a “Square One Meltdown.” My sense of identity and my plans for the future were dissolving before my eyes, and I didn’t know how to react other than with panic. At the time, I didn’t have the context for what was happening to me, so it felt even scarier.
Now, three years later, I still get scared. Unfortunately, doing what you love does not inoculate you against fear. Coaching fills me with clarity and purpose, but there are plenty of days that I want to spend hiding under the covers.
The big difference is that I spend less time believing my fears, and I’ve learned to recognize the signs so I’m better at stopping a panic spiral before it gets out of control.
Here are the four things I do to bring myself back.
1. Get out of fight-flight-freeze mode.
When the nervous system gets overloaded by emotion, we disconnect from our bodies. For me, that looks like running around trying to get everything done, sitting frozen with thoughts racing through my head, or tuning out with a numbing distraction. My first step is always to realize that I’ve dissociated from my body and do what I can to get grounded.
I teach lots of ways to do this in Finding Your Fit, but here’s one place to start:
- Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
- Inhale and focus on pushing out the hand on your belly.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds.
- Slowly release your breath, making the exhale longer than the inhale.
- Try a count of in 4, hold 4, out 8.
- Repeat at least four times.
What do you notice when you try this? I often feel like the air I inhale is attaching to all the tension in my body. When I exhale, I feel a softening, melting sensation in my neck and shoulders. The inside of my head gets quieter. I feel heavier and more grounded.
For more things to try, check out my article on getting out of fight or flight mode. It’s important to get in touch with your body before you move on, because otherwise it’s hard to slow down and focus enough to do the next steps.
2. Narrow your focus.
If you look at my list of fears up above, you’ll notice that they are mostly abstract and based in the future. None of them are concerned with my immediate safety or survival. As my teachers like to say, “What part of this problem is in the room with you?”
Once you’ve returned to your body, take a moment to notice your actual real, present situation. Are you in danger? Are you being provided for at this moment? What needs to be dealt with immediately?
This isn’t meant to be a “why aren’t you happy with what you have?” type of questioning. It’s a process of finding out how much of what’s scaring you is in your head. When you take the time to notice that you are safe and secure, you can approach the next step with clear eyes.
3. Question your fears.
During my transition/soul-searching period, I was really good at journaling about my thoughts. Write down all your fears and insecurities? No sweat, I’ve got this covered.
While keeping track of these thoughts was a valuable first step, I just didn’t go far enough. Once I wrote them all down, I accepted them as true. Instead of seeing my fears as a collection of words that were holding me hostage, I let them terrorize me into paralysis and called it “self-awareness.”
Now, one of the biggest things I do with myself and my clients is identify and question the thoughts that cause us stress. We look for exceptions, assumptions, judgments, and projections. We see where we’re voluntarily keeping ourselves small because being big is so much scarier. We let those fears be our teachers and direct us to those parts that need love and healing.
If you want some help getting started with this, check out the Work of Byron Katie. It’s what I use with my clients and a powerful tool for seeing through your stressful thoughts.
4. Get help.
This isn’t step 4 just because I’m launching a program – for me, it was the missing link between absorbing information and actually feeling some relief. I read a million self-help books on my journey, but nothing really sunk in until I sat down with someone whose job was to keep me focused, help me make connections, and point out my assumptions and blind spots. This process can be as uncomfortable as it is healing, and having someone go in there with you makes all the difference.
I hope that if you’re freaking out right now, this has helped you calm down a little bit. And if you’re ready to make a change and interested in finding some support of your own, check out how to work with me and see what kinds of things you’re capable of when you approach your future from a place of clarity and confidence.
Image credit: freeimages.com/Ryan Dunaiski