Shutdown: Dealing with Things Outside Your Control


by Jayson Arend

Excited to Start My Career

Getting my first real job out of college is supposed to be one of the most exciting (and relieving) experiences of someone’s life. After graduating in May of 2018 and a summer job, I spent the better part of 4 months on a full-time job hunt finally receiving my offer letter in early December.

I was born and raised in the Midwest and had also gone to college in Indiana, so I was interested in looking for opportunities on both the west and east coast. Eventually, my search narrowed down to Washington, DC after I visited the city for a day and the interviews started flowing.

In early December, it really seemed like it was all falling into place. My efforts had been rewarded and I was about to start a new adventure!

Not so fast..

Enter: Donald Trump.

You see, I had just gotten a job working for a consulting firm on one of their federal government contracts. Unfortunately, on December 22nd, the part of the government giving out that contract shutdown.

Its estimated that 1.2 million government contractors are without pay as a result of the shutdown. This ranges from cooks to custodians, TSA workers, and to, well… me.

Including about 800,000 federal workers that means an estimated 2 million people are dealing with one of the most common sources of stress for humans: a situation beyond our control negatively affecting their lives. Suddenly, priorities need to be shifted and budgets have to change especially for workers living paycheck-to-paycheck. The longer the shutdown continues, the more the anxiety builds.

And unless one of you has a direct line to Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump, we are all at the mercy of politics.

Doesn’t that tense up your entire body just thinking about it? Even if you aren’t affected by the shutdown, imagine the last time you were helpless to change the outcome of something important in your life? How did that make you feel?

Now, my situation doesn’t compare to the hundreds of thousands of families that were depending on that source of income. I have an amazing support system and enough savings to be just fine.

What I’m walking through are the things I’ve experienced waiting to actually start my job after moving to Washington, DC from Indiana. My hope is there might be some overlap between what I’m experiencing and others so we can both find solutions to help.

(Note: if you or your family is struggling in the Washington DC area, here are some resources you can use.)

Things You Might Be Going Through

Personally, here are a few of the problems I’ve been experiencing.

  1. Compulsively checking the news for updates (leading me to read more bad news)

  2. Losing a sense of structure to my day (doesn’t help I just moved to a new city)

  3. Increased worry about money, leading to anxiety about watching my spending

  4. Uneasy feelings about the lack of control I have in the situation

  5. Searching for new things to fill my time

  6. Partially lower sense of worth from lack of productivity

I Could Use Some Advice

To find some help, I’ve asked Dr. Drew Brazier to give his advice to someone like me struggling to psychologically get a hold of the problem.


With so much extra free time, what are the best things I can do to feel productive?

Dr. Drew :

  • Connect with friends and family with whom you typically don’t get extra time. Connection is very helpful because in times like this you can feel isolated, not seen, and kicked to the side. When you spend meaningful times with others you feel that you belong and reminded of support.

  • Move. No, I’m not saying move your house or job. Rather, physically move more. You don’t need to go to a gym even. Walk more, stand more, and find excuses to be on your feet. This isn’t just to be “healthy”, your brain doesn’t get stuck in the emotional regions when you are moving- you are literally shifting the blood flow in a very helpful way.

  • Start creating one new positive habit. What is that one thing you’ve said many times that you want to do to take better care of yourself… but you never get around to it. Now is the time. We see too many people turn towards excessive alcohol or substances, and just stagnation during this time. Instead, why not focus on one new behavior that you can start in on?


How do I manage the feeling of helplessness in this situation psychologically?

Dr. Drew :

  • Plan your days. Don’t  let your days come and go during this time. Schedule your days and provide yourself with structure. This allows your brain to feel like you are controlling your day and feel a sense of accomplishment.

  • Establish a mantra. Create meaning for this time. In other words, what do you want to focus on each day, how do you want to show up? For me, I’m focusing my life on seeing and hearing other people. So each day, I strive to live by my mantra of seeing and hearing others.

Can I find a way to be grateful for this situation?

Dr. Drew :

  • Yes. Now before you slap me for saying that, I really hope that you can find that gratitude is something created by you, and not dictated by a situation. If you are actively taking control of your time and choices during this time- you could walk away from it with a sense of gratitude for being able to work on yourself. I don’t think you’ll be grateful for the actual shut down, rather for what you were able to accomplish.

What We Do Next

What I love most about Dr. Drew’s answers is that they all come back to one thing - action.

Creating a new positive habit, establishing a new mantra, connecting with friends and family. “Creating”, “establishing”, and “connecting” are words that are impossible to manifest in the real world without personal action grounded in taking responsibility for the amount of control you actually have in your situation to make it better.

Here’s a promise I’m working on keeping to myself: the shutdown, or the next recession, or whatever “it” is that enters my life beyond my control next will only be greeted with enough energy to say “ok, I know you’re here.”

After that, I’m focusing on what to do next.

Dr. Drew Brazier is speaking at the MIND Conferences on March 22nd, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Purchase Tickets