March 2nd, 2009
12:58 PM ET

Stay calm. Make it a priority.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/02/art.job.seekers.jpg]

David Gewirtz | BIO
Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Publishing

Everywhere I go, everyone I talk to, almost universally, people are stressed out. Many of you are terrified you're going to lose your jobs, many of you have lost some savings, a shocking number of Americans have lost their homes. The news is unfailingly bad and the outrages seem to keep piling up.

While the world seems to be spinning out of control, there is one area of your life you can take absolute control over: your state of mind. Stay calm. Make it a priority.

Stay calm and get resourceful.

Most of us can survive almost anything if we don't freak out. Stay calm. Freaking out hurts, physically. It also hurts the people around you and it interferes with your ability to think. Ever watch a James Bond movie (or MacGyver)? When faced with challenge, our favorite heroes stay calm and get resourceful, not crazy.

There's a point in your mood where you have the choice of going full-goose bozo or simply letting it wash over you. There's a point between stimulus and response where you actually make an internal decision to freak out, to ride the emotion. Make the choice to stay off the ride.

You may have every right to be upset, enraged, or scared. But having the right to freak out doesn't mean it's going to help you. Staying calm always helps. I've never known freaking out to make any situation better.

When people freak out, they make stupid decisions.

It took me until sometime in my 40s to learn a very important survival skill: don't make any decisions when you're nuts. When we're freaked out, losing it, ridin' the wacko wave, going off our meds, whatever you want to call it, we're not thinking straight and we do dumb things.

Virtually any decision you need to make can wait a week. If you're going to burn a bridge, wait a week and think about it when you're not in a rage. If you're going to do something potentially dangerous, wait a week and think about it at a time when you're not desperate. Even if you feel out of control most of the time, there are almost always moments of rational thought. Use those times to think through anything that could change your life for the worse.

Another good trick is to not force failure. I know some of you are having problems balancing work and home and might not be doing either all that well. If someone's judging you (say a boss or a teacher) and you're afraid you might get fired or kicked out, don't stand up and say "shoot me". Let them do the hard work. You'd be surprised by how many people are uncomfortable about delivering bad news and will tolerate mediocrity instead of having to have an uncomfortable conversation.

Let them fire you. Don't do it for them. Even if this tactic only lets you keep your job for another few weeks, you've got an income for that many more weeks.

If you've been canned, be responsible.

Yes, you can sleep in and eat ice cream for a week. You have my permission. But after that, make sure you do what you need to do to get paid and look for a job.

I mentioned last week that people were getting hurt financially because they didn't read their unemployment insurance documents. Do your homework. There's a lot of paperwork that could trip you up. Read all of it. If you don't understand it, get a friend to look over it with you. Read the comments for that article and you'll see some really sad stories from people who didn't do all the necessary homework.

Shower and take care of yourself. Nothing says "loser" more than the guy or girl with greasy hair who obviously hasn't showered for a week. You never know who you're going to meet and it's always good to make a pleasant impression. Plus, a shower may help you feel better about facing the world.

If you're unemployed, tell everyone you meet you're looking for a job. Even in this economy, there are still companies desperate to hire just the right employee. There's a chance you might meet someone whose brother-in-law is hiring. I found some of my very best employees by doing the opposite - telling everyone I met that I was hiring. People know people. Use that fact.

If you're between jobs or things have slowed down too much, focus on building skills. If the stimulus programs come through, there might be some better education opportunities available. But even without government billions, there is a lot of free information available on the Web, including full academic programs, there's no excuse for you to not keep learning during slow times.

Let your attitude show some gratitude.

No matter what your mood, there's no excuse to be rude. If you want to be valued, be shrewd, don't come unglued.

Bad rhymes aside, if you're an employee and you encounter customers, you must display a good, helpful, and cooperative attitude. It's harder and harder to get and keep customers and even if you're just the person taking the burger order, your boss won't be able to employ you if you keep scaring the paying customers away. You know who you are.

Finally, be nice. You're not a chump if you're polite. You're just less stressful. Everyone, everyone is stressed and kindness is always appreciated. Be friendly and warm. It may be hard, it even may be faked, but a cranky person going out of his way to be nice is still a lot more pleasant than a cranky person going out if his way to share the cranky.

If you take away any one thing from this article, it should be this: Stay calm. Make it a priority. Chocolate also helps.

Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Magazines, including OutlookPower Magazine. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.

Filed under: David Gewirtz • Economy
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. carleen

    I'm so sick of what the media keeps refering to the middle class.The income brackets they talk about and investments are only dreams for alot of people with modest homes 10 yr old plus cars,pay health life and homeower and auto insurance and have some money left for
    food and power.It's hard to keep going when all we hear about are people losing 100.000 dollar plus homes and big business wanting billions.I have come to know as bad as it is helping one another and remembering gods in control is all that keeps me calm. Think I may take my 13.00 aweek tax break and buy a tent while I still have a job.Seems my state got enough money to reopen 7 state parks.I can always squat by a camp fire eat wild meat,how relaxing is that.

    March 3, 2009 at 12:23 am |
  2. Annie Kate

    Its hard to stay calm some days when your personal obstacles and the country's economic obstacles put you in a position of not knowing where your next meal or rent check will come from. My freak-outs thankfully are inner rather than outwardly observable and sometimes it has helped – its given me the motivation to sit down and actually list alternatives and then pursue them. There are times though when there just isn't enough calmness or enough chocolate to weather the storm.

    March 2, 2009 at 7:29 pm |
  3. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    I'm all for cautious optimism, acting as if good things will happen, and planning for a better tomorrow. Because reality says that eventually good things do happen if we can ride out the bad stuff. So here's to more of whatever it is that's healthy and keeps us happy. As a third generation American, I refuse to believe the country my great-grandparents left Sicily to come here for is dead and sad and as pitifully full of doom, gloom, and disaster as some on here would have us believe. Breathe, take yoga, have a massage, get a facial, eat a small chocolate bunny, plant a garden, play in snow, just be happy you're alive and able to gripe about it.

    March 2, 2009 at 6:40 pm |
  4. Ivet

    Since being unemployed, I have taken this opportunity to reinvent myself. Being positive, having faith, family and friends to support me has been a blessing. I will not be discouraged. Also, I am sick and tired of people saying that President Obama will turn this country into a Socialist Nation. That is not the case, he is helping to rejuvenate the middle class in which the Bush Administration was trying to destroy.

    March 2, 2009 at 6:15 pm |
  5. Jason

    Give me a break. "Stay Calm" Our country has been taken over by a socialist, after it was lead to the brink by a moron for eight years. Were screwed people. before you know it the currency in your pocket and in your savings will be considered worthless and Obama will erase our borders with Canada and Mexico and our consitution right along with it. Probably won't happen untill he figures out how to dis arm americans I bet we start hearing about that any day now. first bans, then taxex on ammo, then the out right taking of our guns. If Obama declares marshall law in any portion of our country RUN! All the conspericy people were right. I can't imagine whats to come.

    March 2, 2009 at 4:38 pm |
  6. Dean Schindler

    Larry, get a freaking grip. Vote Republican???? Where were you when Bush screwed us to this point on no turning back???? Idiot!

    March 2, 2009 at 4:20 pm |
  7. Raj Nalu

    @Larry L. How is that a Republican in the House is going to turn things around?

    For starters a republican congress and President got us into this mess over the last 8 years! And the current lot of Republicans still have no idea of an alternative plan to the crisis they created. You only have to listen to their recent CPAC conference to get an idea of the confusion of ideologies to determine that .

    The least, that Republicans can do is be grateful that a Democratic President has offered to clean up their mess. And yes, its going to take time.

    If the GOP can cause such a mess for the American people over the last 8 long years, they can surely hang on for a good time of the first term to experience the miracle that President Obama and the American people are going to do together. So GOP are you in or out?

    March 2, 2009 at 4:19 pm |
  8. BettyAnn, Nacogdoches,TX

    Alright, pass the xanax~
    ahhhh peace at last!

    March 2, 2009 at 4:18 pm |
  9. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    @Larry L. ....... Sorry Larry but we had a Republican congress for 6 of the last eight years and a Republican President for the last eight years and the only thing we have to show for it are millions of American HIGH PAYING jobs outsourced to the SLAVE LABOR COLONIES OF COMMUNIST China and SOCIALIST India, enormous Trade and Budget deficits and virtually no Industurail Infrastructure growth that the Bush tax cuts were supposed to generate. the only jobs that created over the last wight years were either low paying Burger Flipping jobs OR DEAD END retail oriented Wal-Mart Style jobs. All that spirit of AMERICAN 'innovation' and 'inventiveness' just never materialized. All that happened were that the rich got richer and teh American middle Class got poorer. Take off your Rush Limbaugh neo-con Labotomy Head Dress and just look at what neo-con nonsense has done to this nation and its people for God's sake. Your policies simply have NOT worked. Stop living in denial !

    On the other hand The Democrats have only just begun to turn things around and the stimulous plans that THEY have enacted haven't had a chance to work yet. Just because they have had overwhelming control of Congress for just a few months doesn't mean this mess is all theirs. Everything you see today had its origins in the neo-con GREED MONGERING of the past eight years.

    March 2, 2009 at 3:22 pm |
  10. William of Iowa

    Given your resume`, if anyone knows anything about "freakin" out it is you brother. Still, you offer good advice – although it is easier said than done.

    March 2, 2009 at 3:01 pm |
  11. Alyzabeth

    Excellent advice. Wish I would follow it most of the time, but I have my freak out moments like everyone else.

    March 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm |
  12. Isabel, Brazil

    Learning to live with the crisis is an art.
    Planning and Prioritization are the order of the day, every day!

    We are facing a severe crisis with unpredictable consequences, but crises come and go at least in my country.

    Even being so serious, in the apex of a crisis, we believe that nobody will survive to tell the story. Some survive. These survivors have become much stronger and more aware.

    Outside the maxim that if someone is missing, someone must be winning. Who knows winning in the crisis is a master!

    March 2, 2009 at 2:32 pm |
  13. Amanda Walton--Fort Erie, Ontario Canada

    Great advice David. Not only does freaking out make you not be able to stratigize your next move those around you can't help you brainstorm because you're just not acceptable to any advice in that state of mind. Most people once close to you will start to fade from your life because no one likes to be around someone who freaks out instead of reasoning it out.

    I've been in very very tight financial situations where I wonder how I'll get through another day but as long as I keep my head clear and use my resources I've always found an answer.

    Allowing yourself to fall into a depression makes it harder to get up and find the answers, stay strong, stay clear minded and as David advises, don't freak out.

    March 2, 2009 at 2:28 pm |
  14. GF, Los Angeles

    We've had Republican for 8 years Larry L and look at where we're at. We've also had Republicans who signed a no increase in taxes pledge here in California and what did they do – vote on increasing our taxes along with the Dems instead of doing what they campaigned that they wouldn't do which was to fight the Dems. Guess who approved it – our Republican governor Schwarzenneger. Both parties suck as far as I'm concerned.

    March 2, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  15. Dee

    LOL @ Larry L's comment.

    March 2, 2009 at 2:10 pm |
  16. Mari, Salt Lake City

    @ LARRY L.......... REALLY?? Well sir, we had a REPUBLICAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE FOR EIGHT YEARS! How's that working for you????

    AND.... the Republicans CONTROLLED BOTH House & Senate from January 1994 through January 2007!

    One of the biggest de-regulations happened during Republican Rule of Congress, it was (is) a little known act called:

    The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1994, authored by none other than PHIL GRAMM! Look it up, this answers a lot of questions!

    Also, LARRY, in 2000, 2001, 2005 & 2008 the man that discovered the Madoff SCANDAL....... was dismissed by the S.E.C.! WHO was running the show in 2000????? REPUBLICANS.

    David Gewitz, brilliant article. I agree with you, people need to get a grip! The "Twin recessions" of ' 81 & '82 were terrible, BUT WE SURVIVED!


    March 2, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  17. Sandra

    Everyone should be worried about their jobs. More jobs will be lost and more small businesses will close. Obamas policies will contribute to more losses. The jobs he will be creating will be paid for by the taxpayers....that is NOT job creation when we are paying for them.

    March 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm |
  18. Christina Los Angeles, California

    REPUBLICAN'S got us into this mess!!!!!

    March 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm |
  19. G. Martinez

    I am to the point that I can not believe a single word coming out of the Republican Party's mouth. They have lied so many times that the party and their members all look like used car salesman to me.

    I am still hopeful for a better class of Republicans being in charge of the party. John McCain is a person that has not disappointed me to date. He seems like an honest and honorable man.

    March 2, 2009 at 1:52 pm |
  20. G. Martinez

    Larry, with all do respect, I voted Republican for Bush and his crew twice. I have been a loyal Republican for decades. But there are Republicans (Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan) and there are those that use the party's banner to line their pockets with money (the Bush Family and their friends).

    For eight long years the Republicans devastated this nation and brought my party to the brink of being irrelevant. The Bushes have proven just about every claim made by Liberals in the last three decades. The most important one being that this once great party does not care about the working man.

    March 2, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
  21. Larry L.

    ---Untill you VOTE REPUBLICAN it's just going to get worse--–

    March 2, 2009 at 1:22 pm |
  22. Melissa

    I haven't freaked out at all. But apparently the people who invest in the stock market are doing exactly that. If they stopped flipping out every day and selling everything off, the economy would be in alot better shape.

    March 2, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  23. Ken Kunkel

    I was amazed to hear that Sec State Clinton just "...pledged $900,00 to support... Gaza strip...." What's going on? I think the US needs that money more right now. I would hate to think that some of those funds would end up in Hamas' hands. Is anyone thinking up there????
    Thanks for listening

    March 2, 2009 at 12:58 pm |
  24. Art

    Hi David, please, send more chocolate!!!

    March 2, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  25. Joanne Pacicca, Solvay, NY

    Yeah, nice, but truth be known, I'm "freaked out" because all those CEO's and Madoffs, are virtually not paying the price for my losses. We absolutely see the ludicrous ....bailing out big business, supporting the jobs of workers who make $75/hr plus benefits...and yet the most impacted Americans stand to lose everything. Please, if there is any time to freak out it's now. The stock market Dow is in the 6,000s today, be realistic, money and retirement funds do matter to the middle class!

    March 2, 2009 at 12:53 pm |