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Five Ways to Transform Fear into Courage

Many Americans are fearful about the future but there are ways of managing those concerns.

The APA Stress in America Survey says almost half of American workers are fearful they won't meet their family's basic needs; 8 out of 10 cite the economy as a major stressor. Meanwhile, 62 percent of the American workforce in a new Gallup poll described themselves as either "struggling" or "suffering" due to economic fears.

The workplace consequences of all this economic fear? One in 10 employees suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization, and lose an average of 6.2 days out of every 20 work days because of it. 

UCLA psychiatrist and author Judith Orloff, MD, offers new ways for employees to manage fear, depression, and anxiety brought on by economic fears. Her techniques help workers "flip the switch" from negative emotional states into healthier positive ones--so they can be happier and more productive on the job.

Here are four techniques that employees can do right now.

* Calm down stress hormones. Eliminate or avoid people and situations that induce the stress response in the body, which speeds up the pulse and mimics the feeling of fear. These include caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants; emotional vampires, or people who drain energy and make someone tense to be around; violent newscasts; traffic jams; and arguments.

* Identify fear triggers. Pick one fear, to start. Let's say it's being laid off. What brings on that fear? Bad news from the industry? Seeing a coworker laid-off? New health bills? The more specific the triggers, the better. Identifying triggers keeps people from being caught off guard next time one crosses their path. Without the "boo factor," fear triggers lose their potency.

* Turn fear into courage. Turn fear into courage by taking small do-able actions. Identify one of the fears--for example, not being able to pay a credit card bill. Notice the physical sensations in the body when thinking about this fear. Next, think of a small, positive step: "I will call the credit card company and renegotiate my fees so I can make a smaller monthly payment." Notice the change in how the body feels. Finally, take that step. Now people can feel brave, not fearful because they are taking positive action. Once people get energized, they will be motivated to try this process with another fear.

* Attract positive people, not emotional vampires. Be around people who are upbeat, not depressed. Engage in activities that make people feel better, such as yoga or taking a walk with a friend, rather than wallowing in fear of the pink slip, the 401(k) statement, or a credit card bill. Affirm all that is going well in life--good friends, family, small pleasures. People should focus on what they have to be grateful for rather than stresses. These activities chase negativity away.

* Stay in the "now." Don't catastrophize about the future. Keep the mind focused on the present moment only--don't let it wander to worst-case scenarios. People should stay focused on what they have to be grateful for now and positive changes they can make today.

For more information, check out Orloff's book Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Harmony Books, 2009)

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