A tough few years
If you live in Calgary and work in the oil and gas industry – chances are good you’ve experienced some significant stress around job security. Thousands of people have lost their jobs since the downturn started. The exact number is hard to nail down, but some estimate over 44,000 became jobless in Alberta since 2014 – probably more.
The lucky ones who kept their jobs, particularly in the energy sector, are now doing the work of several people. They are working harder and longer than ever before to keep up – all while operating in an environment of fear and uncertainty.
No wonder we are stressed.
Stress: such a small word for a massive problem. Stress has one of the biggest negative impacts on health, wellness and general satisfaction in life. High stress-levels are crippling, and the impacts are diverse.
For a surprising number of people, the biggest impact is sleep – both quality of sleep and quantity. How do you turn off your mind at the end of a 15 hour workday, when the only thing in your mind at midnight are the 20 emails you didn’t get to by the end of the day?
Stress fires the amygdala, which sends fight flight or freezes responses coursing through your body. If you experience chronic stress, like the majority of people working in downtown Calgary these days, your amygdala doesn’t have a chance to return to baseline.
That means you are in a constant state of heightened awareness, looking for danger around every corner. Some people will experience crippling anxiety or depression as a result. Others will simply get physically sick more. Lots will drink more, smoke more, exercise more or shop more to handle it.
Perhaps some will just stoically work harder – put their head down and grind it out. Eventually, lots of people wake up one morning realizing they hate their life, they have lost interest in things they used to love, joyless for another day at the office and wondering how it got this bad.
So what do you do?
There are plenty of stressors in our life we have no control over. The economy, oil prices, traffic. What is in our control is our breath, and our thoughts.
Often we have a thought, we believe our thought, and feel stressed.
“I’m going to loose my job” – unless you are sitting in front of your HR manager handing you a package, this is just a thought. It is a thought about the future.
“I really messed up that presentation” – unless you are sitting in front of your boss who says this, it is also, just a thought. It’s a thought about the past.
When we stay anchored in the present, often there is a lot less to stress about. Our breath keeps us in this present moment.
You can handle it
And if the worst happens, and you do loose your job, or get demoted, or a pay cut, or anything else bad. Remind yourself: no matter what happens, you can handle it.
Misery often comes because we argue with reality. If you get fired, that is the reality. It can be a lot less stressful to simply embrace reality – whose to say it isn’t for the best? Only the future can know that for sure.
Managing our stress in this way allows us to think more clearly and problem solve in the present moment. Future thinking (fantasy) and ruminating on the past will illicit fear, anxiety and depression. Staying anchored in curiosity and this present moment can make room to think clearly about your next steps.
My supervisor said to me once:
“If you are going to have a fantasy, it might as well be about something nice.”