What To Do With The Fear

Years ago, every time I had to drive I’d get sick. Eventually, I just started riding the bus, walking or begging someone else to drive me wherever I needed to go. This was before it was a law in TN that all drivers had to be insured, and at a time when purchasing insurance would have meant not eating for our family.

Our cars were tricky to drive. Things like brakes that had to be pumped a precise number of times before you wanted to actually stop, toggle switches, gears that shifted from 4th to 1st instead of the normal standard H pattern and doors that only opened from the outside defined our driving experiences.

Combine the lack of insurance and operating a barely functional vehicle with a little road construction or rush hour traffic and what you got was a hivey, anxiety-ridden dava, who thought she was going to throw up pretty much all the time.

Fear. Everyone feels it is some situations, and sometimes – like driving during my poor college years – it is justifiable and even desirable. Fear can act as a sort of built-in risk mitigator, but if you are running a business and you let fear paralyze you, your income will suffer. The further your income falls, the scarier it is and an ugly downward spiral can ensue.

Being a generally worried kind of person who also happens to have a ridiculously vivid imagination, I’m learning to recognize and deal with fear. Usually, I hesitate to talk about being afraid because it can be a little humiliating to publicly announce you are a wienie, but I was inspired by the courage Marian Schembari and her blog post about being proactive. It’s so important to talk about fears, otherwise, they can become much worse and can start to take over your life. By talking about it, more people can learn that their fears aren’t as extreme as they might think. They can learn to be calmer and less fearful. When dealing with the anxiety that’s associated with fears, it’s vital to find a coping strategy. For example, some people find that marijuana can help them to desensitize themselves from this anxiety and fear, helping them to overcome their fears. Many people smoke marijuana in a number of different ways, but one of the most popular methods is by using something similar to these fat buddha glass dab rigs, for example. That should help more people feel less anxious, allowing them to speak openly about their fears to ensure they can overcome them.

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

1. The first thing is to realize that you are afraid of something. It’s easier to think you are staring listlessly at another hand of solitaire because you are a slacker than it is to admit that you are too afraid to do anything else.

2. It helps to do something unrelated to whatever is scaring you but that is still a personal challenge. Progress towards a goal stiffens the spine. I’ve given myself 30 day challenges, trained for a 5K, and taken on volunteer gigs as a way to gently push myself toward being just a little more courageous.

3. Talk to somebody who is likely to understand why you are afraid. Just reading Marian’s post and the comments on it made me feel better. It’s easier to talk about what’s bothering you than it is to put on a show for your peers and colleagues. Choose someone trustworthy who will listen.

4. Face it head on and deal. This one is hard, but if you set a certain time each day to just suck it up and deal with whatever it is for an hour – or even 10 minutes – you will find it far easier as time goes on. It helps some people to actually put it on the calendar.

5. Write out the absolute worst case scenario, imagining exactly how every little detail would feel. Usually, it’s not as bad as we think. The specter is often much worse than the actuality – not always, but most of the time.

That’s all I’ve come up with at this point. How do you handle it when you are afraid?

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Losing

Last week I lost 2 clients. That may seem insignificant to someone who has 40 or 50 clients – or more – but for me, it’s a sizable portion of my income.

The first person told me he doesn’t have time to dedicate to the work I’m doing. No doubt it’s true – he runs a thriving business that involves a great deal of travel. He even said that “when things settle down” he’d like to talk again.

The second person is a long-time client who has just decided to do something entirely different with her business. She is making a great decision and will still give me referrals in the future. She has been one of my best clients ever, and I will miss her.

When you lose clients, you have a few choices. You can hide in bed and read the really thick novel you bought to distract yourself from worrying too much. You can give up completely and start looking for a “real” job. You can start marketing your tail off and praying that someone hires you. You can fall into a horrible depression that cripples every interaction you have with other people. You can make lists of places to look to replace the lost business. You can look for services to add to your current offering.

No matter why you lose business – a crappy economy, a move, a shift in technology, whatever – it feels personal. It can be tough to turn off your sensitivity and remember that owning a business means you are going to deal with rejection, ups and downs and even outright failure. It’s not a matter of if you will face hard times or not, it’s a matter of how long they will last when you do.

Hindsight being 20/20 and all that, I see now that I should have been less worried about being spread too thin. I should have been looking for new clients all the time and outsourced some work if it came to that. Right now, though, I don’t have time to beat myself up over what I should have done. Right now, I need to create a calling list, leave some comments on blog posts, update my samples page, schedule a couple of networking events, order some business cards, write an ad for craigslist…

What about you? What do you do when your business takes a sudden and  unexpected nose dive? How you avoid feeling like your world is crashing? Do you immediately pick yourself up and get busy beating the bushes or do you give yourself a day or two to worry?

P.S. If you know a small business owner who could really use some help with building and executing a marketing strategy or who would like to send out a newsletter or who wants to get started using social media for business purposes, please, send them my way – I have a couple of openings :)

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Drag

Most people have stretches of time where they just feel a little bit off. My daughter says she just doesn’t feel “top of the line” sometimes. Not exactly sick, or even really tired, but somewhere below A-OK.

Maybe these lows are predictable for you. Maybe you feel down every year on some important date, or maybe you feel the Christmas blues. In some ways if you can predict it, it’s better because you are mentally prepared to feel less than optimal.

For me, these spells are usually surprises. Sometimes, but not always, after an argument with a friend or, even worse, my husband or kids I will feel a drag. Even if the conflict gets settled, it still usually makes me feel a little gray the next day, or even for a few days. Sometimes, it happens for no apparent reason, and I drive myself nutty trying to figure out what’s going on. It’s like a slight pull on my thoughts, giving everything in my head a slightly negative twist.

The drag might last for a few hours, a few days or even a few weeks. When it stretches to a few weeks I start to wonder, and start hoping to wake up feeling like my normal self.

Of course, there are all sorts of ways to counteract the drag. I’ve written about most of them on this blog at one time or another, but applying what you know is tough in the middle of an emotional downturn. Plus, it’s easier to justify your poor choices when you’re feeling blue – “I’m not going to run today because my head hurts and I just feel so tired. It’ll be better tomorrow and I’ll run then.”

The thing that saves me is that I always expect the weighted-down days to end. I go to bed each nightexpecting to wake up feeling better the next day.  Hoping isn’t the right word because “hope” implies it might not happen, and I know that some day, I will feel better.  Maybe that’s the difference in clinical depression and a case of the blues.

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Quiet!

In college, I tried studying in the library and couldn’t concentrate. When I moved to the cafeteria, things went much better. At the time, I had two toddlers and there was almost always a guest or two at my house, music was playing and I was cooking, doing laundry, carrying on conversation(s) while studying or writing at home. Maybe I was conditioned to work with chaos all around?

Last week I read the book ReWork, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. It’s a great book – easy and fun to read and full of excellent advice and immediately applicable strategies. However, I hope they are wrong about the need for long, uninterrupted periods of time being necessary for real work to happen. Long stretches of quiet time are rare for me, yet I still hope to turn out some quality work.

Then I came across this post by Carson Brackney about how he enjoys working from home precisely because he can mix his business and his family. I left a comment, enthusiastically agreeing. The next day, yesterday, Thursday, was maddening. I got no work done at all. I started writing an article that shouldn’t have taken more than 30 minutes at 8:30 am. It’s still not finished.

For most of the day, there was someone talking to me on the phone while someone in the room was also talking to me. The dogs were unruly. The teenagers were unruly. I had a headache. It made me question the sanity of working from home. When I was talking to my friend the other day, she told me that she had experienced the same feeling. All of these distractions led her to read this awesome blog post on working remotely and then go about creating her own home office in a spare bedroom. After she sorted out the essential furniture and supplies that she’d need, she was able to work in peace. She recommended that I think about finding somewhere to make my own home office. Apparently, it will increase my productivity. She also told me that you can look for office supplies for your business online to help you find the best deals. Perhaps I’ll have to think about that one.

I just think there are as many cons as there are pros when it comes to working from home. Not only are there so many more distractions at home, but I also miss the social interaction you get when actually going to work. This is easier to cope with if you have a video chat api or something like that which will allow you to video call with people, so that is a must-have if you are going to be working from home for a considerable amount of time.

The truth is I can work with a certain amount of noise and activity around me, but there’s a limit to what I can ignore. That’s why my friend has really got me thinking about creating my own working area.

What about you? Do you work better in a noisy environment or do you require quiet and peace?

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Escapism vs. Living in the Moment

How often do we stumble through days, feeling just blah, not quite on top of the game, getting the necessary stuff done, but thinking about how good it will feel to sit and zone out watching TV or playing computer games or whatever your preferred method of zoning out is?

How many hours do we lose by not thinking about them? What epiphanies do we miss having by shutting our brains down?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of emptying my head and entertaining my brain with fluffy stuff on a regular basis. But sometimes it gets to be a habit. One of my favorite things to do, and probably one of the most dangerous to my productivity and attitude, is to read novels. I love to read, and my favorite genre is kids’ fantasy.

Sometimes, I read in order to escape thinking. I’ve been described as “negative” and “critical” more than once.  Given the wrong set of circumstances, my head has the potential to take me down some dark, uncomfortable paths.  While exploring those scary places can be beneficial, much more often, it’s better to follow the advice of the Carter Family and “keep on the sunny side.”

When you feel the veil of sadness creeping up and tugging you towards a damp, creepy line of thinking, the easiest thing to do is submit. Let go and be sad for a day. Two at the most.  Zone out. Eat bad food. Read novels. Watch bad TV. Whatever you do. Then it’s time to get  yourself in hand and try to find some sunshine.

Action usually works. Just get up and do something, preferably something that will get you closer to your goals. If you don’t have goals, figuring out one or two might be a good way to pull yourself out of the doldrums. If you aren’t quite up to doing something that feels important, choose a menial task. Washing the dishes works pretty well.

If menial housework doesn’t do it for you, find something you can do for someone else. This one works nearly every time. Drag yourself out of your bubble and do a good deed. It doesn’t really matter who, but help someone. For a real mood-boost do something nice for someone who has recently irritated you.

Plant something. It could be a literal seed or an idea or maybe even a big, juicy kiss. If you go with the literal seed, you will get to see it grow and change, choose the idea and there’s no guessing where it will lead; plant a kiss and you’ll probably get a smile.

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Changing Your Mindset

If you sit and watch people at the mall or in a big box store or even the grocery store around 6 pm on a workday, chances are you will see some angry looking folks. Sometimes it seems like the default setting for most of us is irritated, depressed, stressed, or tired. I know so many of my friends often complain about being unhappy and depressed all the time. Usually, this is caused by work commitments and other life stressors that we might have. Over time, these negative feelings can build up, causing us to feel much more stressed and depressed. When we start feeling like this, we should really try and find some treatments as soon as possible. Some of my friends have recently spoken about websites like https://www.togoweed.co/ where people can get some cannabis. It’s believed that cannabis can provide people with feelings of happiness and energy, giving people a break from their usual feelings of being tired and irritated. If anyone else is feeling depressed, it might be worth looking into some cannabis. Alternatively, there are lots of other things that people can do to relieve these feelings that we all seem to experience.

I’m guilty of feeling like that too. It’s just easy to focus on the bad stuff. Lack of milk for my coffee, an unpleasant surprise from the dog stuck to my houseshoe, or loud noises early in the morning all set an unpleasant tone for my day. Sometimes it’s a whole series of that sort of niggling stuff that just aggravates and makes me grumpy.

When I realized that most of my days were spent feeling uncomfortable or unhappy or generally less than optimal, I started practicing a few techniques that have helped.

SmilingTree Writing – I’ve always wanted to work from home and/or for myself. It may take time and it may not even work out in the end, but SmilingTree gives me something concrete to do that will hopefully advance progress toward that goal. For more than a year now, I’ve been doing some kind of writing almost everyday.

Grateful Lists – For months, I was writing a quick list of five good things each day and emailing it to a random contact. Sometimes the list was silly with items like oatmeal cookies on it, and sometimes more serious – a happy marriage – but it always forced me to think about good stuff for a few minutes. On bad days it was most helpful and had the power to change my attitude.

“Is this important in the big picture?” My family is probably sick of hearing this because when there is tension in my house, it inevitably comes out of my mouth. Will whatever is bothering you be important in five years? One year? Next month? Next week? Tomorrow? How upset should you get over something you probably won’t even think about tomorrow?

Get some exercise. This is common advice, but sometimes it is so hard to follow. It really does change my attitude, though. Taking a walk or working in my garden or even jogging on the treadmill helps when I’m tired or grouchy. Endorphins – gotta love ‘em.

Talk to a friend. You don’t even need to talk about whatever is bothering you. During the last 3 or 4 months I’ve been lucky enough to be able to have lunch with several different friends. In each case we went to a restaurant I hadn’t been to before, and it improved my mood unbelievably every time.

Maybe this is all trite and worn out advice, but it is what has worked for me. Each one helps in a different way – SmilingTree provides a creative outlet and a professional satisfaction, considering the big picture helps keep family stuff in perspective, and getting some exercise is a physical way to relieve stress.

No doubt there are people out there doing more effective and more creative things to keep themselves focused on the good stuff. In the end, it really doesn’t matter what you do as long as it helps you feel good.

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