by Portia Franklin, LCSW,
There’s a Buddhist saying, that is often quoted to encourage people to take up the practice of meditation: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” And I believe, in most cases, when you’re feeling sad or scared or any difficult feeling, the Buddhist advice to “lean in” to that feeling, rather than trying to distract yourself or run away from it is very sound.
But, there are instances when people are feeling stuck, scared and depressed, that I would give the opposite advice: Don’t just sit there, do something!” Because depression, among other things, can feel like a kind of paralysis, a hopeless stuckedness, and inaction when you’re in this state leads to negative predictions (“Nothing will ever get better.”) Then, of course, negative predictions lead to more inaction, and on and on….
As an example, Annette’s (not her real name) job as an executive assistant, which she had held for 10 years, was eliminated because of corporate restructuring. Though she had consistently superb evaluations, the company made no effort to find another position for her. “Basically they gave me a minimal amount of severance, and showed me the door!”
Initially Annette was in shock. It was difficult to believe that people for whom she has worked so hard for so long could have treated her so shabbily. After the shock wore off a bit, she began to do the typical job-hunting things—posted her resume on the appropriate sites and requested alerts when an appropriate job listing came up. After months of no responses, she fell into a panicked depression. It was hard to fall asleep at night, and when she did finally fall asleep there were nightmares. Then it would be hard to wake up in the morning. It was also hard to focus and hard to get anything done: “When I wake up in the morning, I just want to turn over and pull the covers over my head. I feel like a reject of society!” Annette started to feel paralyzed and hopeless.
In therapy we worked out a strategy based on “just one step” every single day. Annette agreed to take one new action every single day, whether she felt like it or not—to contact one new person or write to one new company. We agreed that she should go beyond the traditional online resources, because they had yielded so little. She ultimately came up with a plan to contact companies that were of interest to her—who were not advertising anywhere—by writing an old fashioned letter and sending it by snail mail.
Though the voices in her head kept telling her it was useless to do all this, she kept it up. After a couple of weeks her tenacity paid off. She received an email from an HR person in a company she had always wanted to work for. When Annette called this person back, they made a warm connection on the phone, and she advised Annette to get in touch with a small agency that the company uses to fill their staffing needs.
Feeling “guardedly optimistic” Annette contacted this agency, using the above person’s name, and they immediately invited her in for an interview. As Annette put it, “Though I couldn’t see it for sure, I could begin to imagine that there just might be a light at the end of this dark tunnel!”
The interview exceeded Annette’s hopes: “We clicked from the very beginning. I felt comfortable, like I could be myself. Jeff (the interviewer) made me feel for the first time in ages like I have something to offer. He actually said, ‘You’re just the kind of person we’ve been looking for.’ "
Within a week, Annette was placed in a highly visible temp position in a company where the atmosphere was relaxed and informal—a perfect match for her style. She started to develop relationships with a number of her colleagues, and it looks like she’s well on her way to a good job in a company she respects and admires.
There are a couple of important takeaways from Annette’s story:
• Though it may be difficult to find your motivation, take action!
• Particularly if you’re job hunting, it’s important to go beyond the typical online resources. Research companies that you find interesting and write a well crafted letter to a specific individual.
• As negative predictions show up (and they will!), release them, reminding yourself that most negative thoughts are inaccurate—based on the past, not the future.
• Don’t isolate when you’re feeling down. Though you may feel so inclined, it’s the last thing you need to do.
The bottom line is this: feeling stuck is just a feeling. And as Buddhist psychology teaches us, all feelings (and all situations) are impermanent. So it’s okay to feel all of that, to lean into the sadness and discouragement that are part of it for a while. But then, you’ve got to take action—just one step, today, this very moment, to begin to move out of the stuck feeling of the present toward a future that’s filled with rich, as yet unimagined possibilities.
Portia Franklin is a New York City based psychotherapist who has more than 20 years experience helping people move beyond depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties to lead fuller, richer lives. Check out her web site: www.integrativepsychotherapy-nyc.com