Thriving through Setbacks and Anxiety @ Workplace

Today’s workplace is in a constant flux. The phrase, “change is the only constant”, though clichéd, is very much applicable in the workplace. The sad part of this is that not all that change is constructive as far as the employee is concerned. As corporate consultant Gary Hamel has observed, “The world is becoming turbulent faster than organizations are becoming resilient.” The chaos of change in today’s world is beyond the ability of most organizations to handle well”. Changes in the workplace occur so often now that very few employees have up-to-date job descriptions. And it isn’t just frequent, disruptive change that must be handled. Morale suffers when friendships with co-workers are disrupted by reorganization, downsizing, and layoffs. Pride in one’s work can be hard to maintain when a system you developed for doing things is tossed out and a new system that doesn’t work as well is imposed on you. 

So, setbacks are for real. Workplace anxiety is a common phenomena. All negative emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety, distress, helplessness, and hopelessness decrease our ability to solve the problems we face, and they weaken your resiliency, our ability to bounce back. Constant fears and worries weaken your immune system and increase your vulnerability to illnesses.

The situation is serious. At the present time, one out of six Americans uses tranquilizers regularly. According to current US Food and Drug Administration figures, approximately 1.5 million adults are tranquilizer addicts, and tranquilizer misusers currently outnumber abusers of illicit drugs. Is taking tranquilizers or alcohol the right solution?

How do you respond to extreme setbacks? In my studies I have found that there are three key aspects to the fight against anxiety. As explained in slide 2 , all the three needs to be mastered for us to have stability.

The three aspects are

  1. Understanding
  2. Release
  3. Prevention 

 Let us see these three aspects separately, and when we put them together, we will have the complete picture, a holistic view of anxiety Management.

1. Understanding

We need to able to understand what causes us anxiety, and how we react to anxiety. My focus will be more on understanding how we react to anxiety, for the simple reason that the causes are most of the time out of our control. There are going to be setbacks and we cannot avoid them, there are going to be failures in our projects, we are very likely to miss that promotion that we were hoping to get. The salary increase that we were banking on might not come, we might not win that important business deal that we put our heart and sweat in, we might be placed under a horrible boss, or worst still we might be laid off from work altogether. We know our Bibles well, and we know that the bible tells us that we will have trials and tribulation in this life. We cannot control them. What we can however do, is to seek divine help in influencing our reaction to the situations and that is what we will try and do in the short time that we have. 

Anxiety is triggered when a disruptive change takes place. This could be a set back or a failure or communication of a bad news, reorganization, location change, etc etc. This disruptive change is a rough blow to many people (or, should I say, to all?) People react to life’s rough blows in many different ways. Some emotionally explode. They become enraged and flail around. They have emotional tantrums in which they may want to hurt someone. A few become physically violent. 

Others do the opposite. They implode. They go numb. They feel so helpless and overwhelmed they can’t even try to cope with what has happened. Some people portray themselves as victims. They blame others for ruining their lives. They spiral downward, mired in unhappy thoughts and feelings. “This isn’t fair,” they complain over and over. “Look at what they’ve done to me now.” 

Sadly, some people get stuck in the victim/blaming mode when their lives are disrupted. They reject all suggestions on how to cope with what happened. They won’t take steps to overcome their difficulties even after the crisis is over. Getting stuck in this frame of mind is like tying a rope around your feet and then trying to run a race—it’s a major handicap. Victim thinking keeps people feeling helpless, and by blaming others for their bad situations, they place responsibility on others for making their lives better. 

Blaming others for ruining the life you had will block you from bouncing back. Blaming an organization’s executives, “the government,” self-serving politicians, administrators who lack emotional intelligence, cheap foreign labor, stock market managers, taxpayers, or any person or group for ruining your life keeps you in a non-resilient victim state in which you do not take resiliency actions.

The key phase in the response to anxiety is in getting out of the “upset” phase and move on to the cope phase. The upset phase is the dangerous stage, as we have seen above it is easy for us to get into the victim stage from there. Our success in managing anxiety depends on how soon we are able to get out of our upset stage and move to the cope stage and not fall into the victim stage. 

It is very easy for Christians to fall into this victim stage. Dr Steve Brown, one of the key teachers at the Reformed Theological Seminary, USA, says that Christians put themselves into Prisons very easily. There are 12 prisons that Steve Brown talks about, and we do not have time to go through all of them here. But some of them you might recognise easily, are the prison of sin, prison of guilt, prison of the past, prison of self abasement etc. Sure we have biblical references to justify these prisons, the bible tells us that all of are sinners, , the bible tells us that we are unworthy, the bible tells us that we should not think ourselves higher than what we really are etc. Unfortunately many misunderstand these and overlook the rights that we have as Christians. Dr Steve speaks about 8 rights that Christians should stand up to. Some of them are the right to be human, the right to be wrong, etc. The fact is, we need to remember that Christ died for our sins, that Christ took the punishment so that we could be free. We need to remember that as Christians we have the advantage of rejoicing. 

A. Even when the worst is anticipated (Hab. 3:17-19). 

B. Even when everything seems to be going wrong (Acts 16:25). 

C. Even in trials, difficulties, hard times (James 1:2-4; Matt. 5:10-12; Heb. 12:11). 

D. Even when we regret the past, when we remember our sins and failures (Romans 8:28). 

Hence we need to set ourselves free from the prisons. Once we are able to do that we are better equipped to move on from the upset stage to the cope stage, instead of falling into the victim stage. Then we will be able to get through our distress, orient quickly to the new reality, and cope with immediate challenges. And we will see how we can do that with the help of our God. Then we can bounce back and often spiral upward, stronger and better than before. 

I would encourage all of us who are listening to this to examine ourselves and see what our reaction to setbacks and anxiety is. And please do not worry if you have felt murderous few times, if you have exploded few times, you have felt guilty for the third world poverty some times, what is important is, how soon you have come out of those prisons and moved along to cope and bounce back and thrive in your life. 

2. Release 

Once we have understood our response to setbacks and anxiety the next important step in the management is to be able to release ourselves from the anxiety. This will help us in coping with anxiety and rebound and thrive in life. To me, this is where we Christians have the greatest advantage, we have some thing that no one else has, and that is the unique identity that God has given us through Jesus Christ. Let us look at slide no 4 . The simple fact that the formula B= f(P,S) describes, is this: our behaviour is a function of the person that we are, and the situations that God places us in. And we do not need much convincing to understand and accept that fact that we do not control the situation, God does. So we can try and do some thing about who we are as a person. There are a number of personality tests available which tells us about our personality, some of them are very focused on our “stressability”. While these tests can tell us our personality types, there is some thing we can do to really influence our behavior and actions, and that is to understand and develop our Christian identity. Let us look at what happens when we are able to throw away our defective natural identity and accept and embrace the Christian identity. 

  • First, we develop a deep sense of Belonging (From Jehovah I came.. );
  • “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son” ; Romans 8:29
  • Galatians 4:7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
  • For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3
  • Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Romans 8:17 
  • This sense of belonging, and the fact that God has promised that he will be with us gives us a healthy attitude to any set back, any failure and even ones own death ; 1 Corinthians 15:55
  • Once we have this sense of belonging, and the healthy attitude to set backs we will be willing to confront Difficult issues that come up our lives
  • Estrangement in relationships
  • Unwillingness to accept the fact that we are not just victims but agents (we talked about it already)
  • The need to repent of any sins or lapses
  • And this will help us develop a Loving spirit that reaches out to others; 1 Peter 4:10 

Pastor Vasudevan calls this, the pure joy of being intimate with God. That intimacy is so powerful that we will not worry about anything any more. After all, remember; we serve a God who proclaimed in Isaiah 43:1-4 that he loves us so much, that he is willing sacrifice anything for us. Let me read “The Message” translation of these verses to you.

But now, God’s Message, the God who made you in the first place, Jacob, the One who got you started, Israel: “Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end— Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you: all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in! That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you.

Do we still believe we need to worry? Or can we release ourselves from all anxiety because we serve a God who says, That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you.

We all still have the option, of clinging on to what we have, putting ourselves in prisons, trying to resolve the setbacks that come our way by ourselves. You might have heard the story of how the tribals catch Monkeys. They drill small holes into coconuts, holes small enough for the monkeys hands to go inside. Then they pout some nuts into the coconuts and throw them around near monkeys. Monkeys being curious beings pick up the coconuts and when they find some thing shaking inside, they put their hands inside and grab the nuts inside. They are so thrilled at getting the nuts that they keep their hands clasped around the nuts and try to pull the hands out. But the hands will not come out , because the hole is not big enough for a clenched fist. The monkeys never give up and try running around with the heavy coconuts hanging from their hands and it makes it very easy to catch them. The lesson is simple, let go and you are released. We have a God who has promised umpteen times that he will take care of us. All that we need to do is to shed our natural defective identity and embrace the identity that God has given us in Jesus Christ. Are we willing to do that?

 3. Prevention

The third key step in Anxiety management is Prevention. In her book ” God’s Stress Management Plan” , the author , Dr Helen A. Mendes, states that the best way of managing stress in a Godly way is to surrender to His love. I have come up with this four pronged formula for preventing anxiety based on Dr. Mendes’ work. Let us look at slide no 5. I do believe that our anxiety management plan needs to be centered around Love. Love your God, Love yourselves, Love your neighbors and Love God’s creations. Love your God and Love your neighbor are two of the well known commandments, and hence I need not speak about them much except the fact that if we are able to accept that unconditional Love that our God offers to us, we can free of anxiety and worry. I would however, like to spend a few minutes on loving one self . This is some thing that make Christians wince some times. Many Christians are happier with self denial than self love. Not being able to love oneself is a key reason for much depression and associated problems. Some Christians are even against the concept of self knowledge. Let me quote some leaders here before presenting my case on that.

  • There is no deep knowing of God without the deep knowing of self, and no deep knowing of self without the deep knowing of God: John Calvin (In his book: The Institutes of Christian Religion)
  • Grant, Lord, that I may know myself as I know thee : A prayer composed by Augustine (Fifth Century Church leader)
  • There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend; to discover myself in discovering God: Thomas Merton, (20th Century spiritual writer)
  • I would go as far as to say that the teaching that we should focus on God and Christ alone and not seek to understand ourselves and our identity as new creatures in Christ is not Christian but anti-Christian. Selwyn Hughes, writer of Every Day With Jesus

Now here is my case, all of us know that we are expected to surrender ourselves. My question is, if we do not know ourselves , what are we surrendering? If we do not know the innermost fears and temptations that we are living with, and if we do not surrender them, are we not surrendering superficially? The same holds good with loving self. We are created by God in His image. If we truly love God, can we afford not to love God’s image? Can we afford not to love God’s creation?

Dear friends, let me offer you this four pronged anxiety prevention plan from God. The peace that will come when we rest in this Love, is immense and no situation will be able to shake us when we are secure in this four cornered Love.

So this is what life and God has taught me about managing setbacks and anxiety. When we follow this plan, we are able to thrive through setbacks and anxiety. May God bless you with His peace.

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