Anxiety and the Economy
News of the current financial crises is everywhere. Foreclosures on homes continue. Several banks and insurance companies are still in a tailspin. Many of us have watched our lifetime savings dwindle to a fraction of their original value. Financial downturns have occurred before and most readers have lived through at least one other recession. This recession, however, will likely be longer and deeper. Here are some thoughts to help us with the anxiety associated with the current financial climate.
Avoiding All-or-Nothing thinking--Crises versus Catastrophe
Finances are a real part of life, but they are by no means everything. We feel the effects of the financial downturn in different ways, but it is not a catastrophe. Our cities have not flooded; disease is not spreading throughout the land. We continue to have our health and family. Health trumps wealth. Putting things into perspective, even distinguishing between gradations of misfortune is very important. Cognitive-behavioral therapies are particularly good at helping people with this.
Distinguish between Hardship and Uncertainty
No doubt this economic crisis represents a concrete hardship to many. Perhaps even more difficult then the concrete hardship is the uncertainty that comes with financial volatility. “Who’s taking are of me?” seems to be an elemental question we all ask. As healthy adults, we know that ultimately, we must take care of ourselves. Yet, on some deeper level we all want to be taken care of – if only by taking care of the system that takes care of us. Insight-oriented and psychodynamic based therapies are useful in helping us come to terms with our expectations, both conscious and unconscious.
Anxiety = Uncertainty + lack of Control
We are most vulnerable to anxiety when we simultaneously feel both uncertain and not in control. Life is inherently uncertain. The current financial crisis is simply an extreme version of this. We cannot single-handily change the uncertain nature of the economic climate, but we can assert some control over how it affects us emotionally. I recommend taking active, concrete steps --even if very small ones – to help us feel like we are back in control. For example, write out a concrete budget. Actively think of ways to save money and post the list on your refrigerator. Actively research alternative investments or ways to pay down debts. In short be active, not passive. You don’t have to move mountains but you do have to begin re-asserting your own sense of being in control.
If we are predisposed to being vulnerable to anxiety, the current financial climate may exacerbate this tendency. If we feel that our anxiety is debilitating or decreases our ability to function for an extended period of time, we should speak to a mental health professional that can discuss therapeutic or even psychopharmacologic interventions. For the majority of people, however, we should not underestimate the importance of keeping perspective and actively planning. This will go a long way toward helping us navigate these uncertain times.