The following post was written by Ascend Executive Career Coach, Joan Runnheim-Olson:

Searching for a job can be challenging during good times and that challenge can be compounded during uncertain times. Today with the triple health threat of Covid, the flu, and RSV combined with rising inflation and a potential recession, you may find yourself fearing for your health, both physical and financial. While some companies may put a freeze on hiring with the current unstable economy, others will need to fill positions as necessary. Feeling fearful, uncertainly can cause job-seekers to “freeze” and halt their job search.

 Fear is a Primal Survival Mechanism

The purpose of fear is to keep us safe. Our reaction to fear is the same whether it’s a physical threat (such as a bear chasing us) or an emotional threat, such as the fear of not landing a job. The fear feels real and can prevent us from working toward achieving our goals. If you’re in a job search, you may be thinking, “Why bother, no one’s hiring now.” On the other hand, if everyone is thinking that, why not take the time to ramp up your efforts so that when companies do start hiring, you’re ahead of the curve. Let’s explore what happens in the brain when you’re feeling fearful and discover some neuro-tips to overcome that fear.

What Happens in the Brain with Fear?

When you are feeling fear, your sympathetic nervous system is activated and causes your amygdala, located below the hippocampus, to initiate a Fight, Flight or Freeze response. When in the Fight/Flight/Freeze mode, blood rushes from your prefrontal cortex (the logical part of the brain) to your arms and legs and your thinking goes out the window. The stress hormone, cortisol increases. Blood flow to your brain decreases, your immune system becomes compromised, and optimism disappears. You don’t feel a sense of safety, satisfaction, or connection.

You are most effective when your parasympathetic nervous system is activated which results in a calm response. In this state, you experience an increase in the feel-good neurochemicals: dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. This is when you feel a sense of safety, satisfaction, and connection. Your needs feel met, your body and brain default to its resting state allowing them to repair and refuel. You recover from stress easily and your problem-solving ability goes up. Your health improves and you become more resilient. In this state, you are feeling positive and more apt to take action.

 Neuro-tips for Overcoming Fear

Limit your time watching the news about negativity and its impact and limit your time talking about it. It’s important to keep informed, however, don’t focus on it 24/7. Activate the parasympathetic nervous system, calming your amygdala using these neuro-tips:

  • Practice gratitude – Write down 3 things that you’re grateful for every day for 30 days. Expressing gratitude can get you out of your head, boost your happiness and increase your effectiveness, according to life coach and author, Mel Robbins. Gratitude boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine which is vital for both physical and mental well-being. Gratitude also boosts serotonin, the feel-good hormone and neurotransmitter. Can’t think of anything to feel grateful for? Just the act of searching for something to feel grateful for produces the result.
  • Catch your negative thinking – Be thoughtful about what you think about throughout the day because you’re laying down neural wiring or strengthening neural pathways. Another technique when you catch yourself thinking negatively resulting in fear is Mel Robbins’, “5 Second Rule.” Simply count backward 5-4-3-2-1 to stop the amygdala from hijacking and kick your prefrontal cortex into action.
  • Practice mindfulness – One way to practice mindfulness is to recognize when fear arises. Observe the feeling of it in your body. Describe verbally what you are feeling. Notice how the awareness which contains fear is really never fearful. Keep separating from the fear with your awareness and allow the fear to pass like a cloud.

A few other tips to reduce fear includes: calling up a friend or practicing yoga or tai chi. These activities will release the neurotransmitter oxytocin which decreases feelings of fear.

Final Step – Take Control!

While you can’t control everything in your life, you can control how you react and act during uncertain times. If companies slow down or freeze their hiring, it’s important that you don’t stop your job search. Become familiar with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and other video apps for potential interviews. Take time to identify your target companies and make connections within each using LinkedIn. Consider learning a new skill relevant to your job target or earn a certification. Today there are so many classes offered online that you don’t need to leave home to do it. Online volunteer opportunities exist and can help you gain a new skill or keep your skills sharp.

Joan Runnheim-Olson is an Executive Career Coach for Ascend Career and Life Strategies LLC. She has been a career transition and coaching expert for more than 20 years and has been dedicated to her life’s work and passion of helping individuals gain clarity, confidence, focus, and momentum to achieve career success. Through her energy, optimism, and expert career acumen, she inspires others to set and achieve their desired career goals and provides them with a linear, real-world action plan for getting results. 

Want to schedule a meeting with Joan? You can do so here