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Staying Afloat in Difficult Economic Times:
The Importance of Healthy Psychological Habits
Harper Slate, Ph.D.
I’m writing this article to you in the early spring
of 2009. As a country, we’ve already had the bailouts of the major
banks and financial institutions, as well as the “retention bonuses”
at AIG and Merrill Lynch. Watching CNN these days, you wonder whether
you should get up and face the world or crawl back in bed and pull the
covers over your head. You may be facing some personal financial crisis:
considering a “short sale” on your home, perhaps pulling
your children out of private schools, or dealing with a job loss. Perhaps
not, but regardless, no doubt someone you know been affected by these
Every one of my clients has expressed how the economy and the current
outlook have affected their well-being. I have heard a lot of anxiety
and dread: “How much worse can it get?” “I was thinking
about going on that trip, but it’s out of the question now.”
“The boss walks around and I make sure I look busy all the time.”
Interestingly, however, I’ve also heard about gratitude: “I
used to think I hated my job, but really it’s not that bad.”
“We don’t eat out as often as we used to, but I’m
fine with it. We’ve been cooking as a couple and I like it.”
There is something about going through difficult times that can be sobering,
but it can also be clarifying and freeing. You rediscover truths, such
as what really makes you happy. You may choose to live more simply,
perhaps with less stress. People may feel freer to talk about the economic
difficulties (after all, we are all in this together) and develop a
stronger sense of community.
This is the time, though, to pull out all the stops. By that I mean,
its time to ensure that you are doing all you can to keep the best positive
attitude, the best psychological and physical health, as you weather
this crisis. Many years ago, I attended a seminar in which the leader
had been very clear that the workshop was only for experienced therapists
who were knowledgeable about several modalities of relaxation techniques
and stress reduction. Having finished the course work for biofeedback
training, I felt confident my abilities were on par. He started the
seminar of about 100 therapists by asking us to raise our hands if we
knew these different techniques. He must have asked us about 30 different
techniques, and several hands went up with each question: “Do
you know ….?” I remember feeling somewhat smug, sitting
with my fellow therapists, thinking what a seasoned group we were, how
well-trained, how flexible, how versatile. And then he asked “How
many of you use these techniques in your daily lives?” There was
a hush, a couple of hands went up, and then uproarious laughter. Yes,
certainly we could teach these methods, show them to our clients, but
how poor we were at helping ourselves. That simple exercise helped change
my own use of healthy psychological habits.
During this economic downturn, it is important to develop ways you have
discovered to help you create a more balanced, stress-free life. Whether
you are mildly affected or experiencing major disturbances to your work
or income, it is essential to attempt to keep centered and addressing
the issues of your life. Here are some suggestions for staying psychologically
Eat a balanced and healthy diet. Think about adding
a complex B vitamin supplement, which may help reduce stress.
Get a good night’s sleep. (See Psych Bytes
at the end of this article for more information about sleep.)
To stay flexible, exercise 3 or more times a week.
Stay connected with friends and family.
Enjoy quiet time, doing things you love.
Take extra time to get wherever you need to go. We
are more likely to have an accident when we are hurrying to get there.
Take up one new method for relaxation—visualization,
breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or mindfulness. For more ideas,
you may want to read Dr. Malcolm Miller’s article on “How
Stress Reduction Can Save Your Life” or Dr. Jeffrey Lance’s
article “Emotional Regulation;” both articles are on this
Now is not the time to put your head in the sand
about your personal finances. Regardless of what you are experiencing,
keep abreast of what you have and what you owe. There are lots of
resources to help address these issues.
It is normal to feel anxiety. You don’t have
to feel as though you’re failing if you do feel stress. You
simply don’t want to cultivate obsessive worrying or negative
Get help if you need it.
I would welcome your suggestions to add to this list.
For example, I listen to birds when I get ready in the morning. I
listen to music in the car, instead of talk radio. I take my dogs
for a daily walk. I do stretching exercises in between seeing clients.
We are all in this together. This is the time to develop
our best self, not only for ourselves, but for each other. Maya Angelou
wrote “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be
reduced by it.”
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