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Where There's Life, There's Hope

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Dear Dr. Levister: My workplace is overrun with fear and rumors about layoffs and budget cuts. What used to be a positive work environment is now something of a backstabbing, boss appeasing hen house. What can we do to ease the anxiety? Peacemaker

Dear Peacemaker: Congratulations you now have a chance to add office psychologist to your portfolio. Coming off the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression the psychological strain on those who still have a job can be significant. Put simply, these days average Americans look more than a little scared.

Not to worry, fear actually can be useful in surviving a crisis like a layoff or foreclosure.

It may be time to engage in a little Franklin Roosevelt-style, “all -we-have-to-fear-is-fear-itself” soothing. Handling worker’s fears is a balancing act for anyone, and anxiety can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

It’s hard not to feel anxious watching people around you lose their jobs and futures.

Tolerance and civility are in short supply from Wall Street to America’s corporate giants.

Even President Obama whose campaign message was summarized in the title of his book, “The Audacity of Hope” is long on somber warnings of tough days ahead and short on pretty pictures of paradise waiting.

But there is hope. It’s worth remembering that the country survived some pretty horrific economic problems in 1974 and 1975, and again from 1980 to 1982. False hope isn’t useful but neither is a lack of hope.

Somewhere in between the bitter rhetoric rests a healthy psychological place, toward which you and your colleagues can steer the mood of the office.

Don’t get roped into believing you are somehow responsible for fixing the problems at work but you can help ease office anxiety by encouraging colleagues to stay focused on the task at hand. Set group work goals and celebrate when you achieve them. Choose to be positive and hopeful even if you feel like you’re being swallowed by fear. Spreading rumors and fear mongering wastes time and saps productivity.

Give hope a try. The nice thing about hope is that it is contagious and it doesn’t cost you a thing.

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