Everyone knows that being laid off can negatively affect one's health and well-being. Feelings of rejection, being unfairly treated, and fear of the future can lead to stress, resentment, and anger, which can lead to health problems such as ulcers, headaches, insomnia, and of course, depression. What everyone doesn't know, however, is that these problems could be minimized and even avoided if we just knew what was really going on "under the hood,” or what happens in our brain and our body that triggers these negative physical, mental and emotional reactions. In other words, to deal with the trauma of being laid off in a way that goes beyond “just surviving,” we need to understand that the negative emotions and health problems we experience are simply chemical changes in our body triggered by a very specific part of our brain.
Here is how all this works: After being laid off we are thrown into "survival mode" by the part of our brain responsible for survival, the brainstem. This lower 20 percent of our brain then triggers the release of "fight or flight" chemicals such as adrenaline, nor adrenaline, and cortisol, which produce emotions such as anger, frustration and resentment. The reason this does not help is that we are not in a “fight or flight” situation! Quite the contrary, what we really need to deal with the situation at hand (being laid off) is access to our best thinking, or the clarity, confidence and creativity that allows us to do more than just survive. What we really need is the ability to shift to the upper 80 percent of our brain (the Neocortex) and shift our focus from stopping the problem (worry, depression and resentment) to starting the solution and moving from surviving to thriving.
You see, after being laid off, most of us find ourselves asking brainstem questions such as, “How could they treat me this way? What did I do to deserve this? Who do they think they are laying me off after I have been a loyal employee for so many years? What am I going to do now?” etc. Basically, we are asking ourselves questions about the problem, which almost always revolve around “Who is to blame?” or “What’s wrong with them? Or what’s wrong with me?”
While understandable, these questions only serve to engage the lower 20 percent of our brain, which responds by increasing blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. Of course, this only has us feeling more stressed, frustrated, angry, etc. which again re-engages the brainstem and has us feeling “all stressed up and no where to go.” This is why so many people feel trapped, confused and paralyzed after being laid off. They are trying to solve the problem from the part of the brain that is incapable of the kind of clarity, confidence and creativity they need to deal with the situation successfully.
What’s the solution? First, we may need to “grieve the shattered dream,” or allow ourselves to feel the emotions of grief over the loss of what we had hoped would be a job where we would finally be recognized for the valuable people we are. After a “good cry” (which often, women are able to accomplish more successfully than men), we will want to shift from a focus on the pain of past to our ability to become more influential in our present and future.
We do this by asking ourselves Neocortex questions, or questions that engage the upper 80 percent of our brain where we have access to the clarity, confidence and creativity necessary to move forward. Interestingly enough, one of the most powerful examples of such a “Top of the Mind” question is also one that most women can answer better than most men, i.e.:
If my grown child were in this position, what would I advise him or her to do?
For example we might encourage someone we loved to shift their focus from the past and “Who’s to blame?” to the present and future. We might encourage them to take stock, or become clear about their attributes, or the qualities and characteristics that make them valuable to potential employers. One way of doing this is to ask ourselves the Neocortex question: “If I were hiring someone to work in my organization, would I hire someone like me?” If so, why? And then make a list of these attributes. You see, we know who we are and what we bring to our roles as professionals better than anyone. And thus, as we become clear about the qualities and characteristics we possess that would be of value to any organization, we begin to recognize our self-worth.
This clarity allows us then to look at the world of work from a very different, Top of the Mind perspective. Now we know that some organization will soon be very fortunate to discover that we are available, and therefore we can begin to evaluate potential employers in terms of whether we want to work for them, (a Neocortex perspective) rather than the fear that we are now, somehow “damaged goods” (a brainstem interpretation and certainly not one we would recommend to someone we loved).
It also makes it easier for us to contact our friends and let them know of our availability. Because rather than coming from the shame and/or resentment of being laid off (brainstem),we now know that when our friends recommend someone as qualified and valuable as ourselves to their friends and colleagues, it will reflect positively on everyone!
Plus, this clarity of our value and worth allows us to go into future interviews confident in the fact that this organization would be fortunate to have someone like us working for it. This confidence is contagious in that when prospective employers sense we that are confident in ourselves, they can be more confident in making the decision to hire us. It also allows us to respond to questions and participate in the process of finding a new job from a more creative perspective because we are coming from the clear, confident and creative part of our mind.
Bottom line: when we want to do more than “just survive” after a lay off, we must access the part of our brain responsible for more than just survival. We must access the wise, supportive and intelligent “Top of the Mind” and treat ourselves like we would treat someone we loved. Then, as we take this loving wisdom and apply it to our lives, we too move from surviving to thriving and are able to bring our best to life and our new position!
Bill Crawford, Ph.D. is an author, psychologist, and organizational consultant, and coach based in Houston, Texas. More information on his services and his new book Life from the Top of the Mind (as well as a test that will reveal which part of the brain is driving your life) is available at www.billcphd.com. Dr. Crawford can be reached at DrBill@billcphd.com.