lee bowers, ph.d.

How to Survive Anxiety Over Today’s Economy By Lee A. Bowers, Ph.D.

In my roughly 25 years of private psychotherapy practice, I’ve never seen people as anxious and worried about finances as they are today. Certainly it is not without reason. Most people have seen their retirement savings dwindle. Unemployment is at a several - decade high, and of course the media drives home reminders of possible economic calamity every day. How are YOU coping?

Some people cope by burying their heads in the sand. But inevitably, this denial has unpleasant consequences. The troubles in our economy are real. Even if you’re confident your job or income is secure, the effect of the overall economic downturn will sooner or later impact us all. But panic is also counter- productive. It accomplishes nothing except to fuel the flame. As in most areas of life, balance is usually the best approach. Here are some ideas to help you maintain yours:

Exercise. Exercise is one of our best stress relievers. Moving our bodies, getting our heart rates up, stretching our limbs actually have a very positive effect on brain chemistry and give us a feeling of well-being. Not only that – it’s free – or very inexpensive. Walking or running requires only a good pair of shoes. Stretching takes not even that! Get away from the house, office, or television, and take a yoga, Pilates, or aerobics class. Join a hiking club. You’ll feel better – and much more relaxed.

Meditate. Whether you listen to guided imagery audios, or do something as simple as sitting and following your breath, meditation calms us. Studies show that when meditation becomes a regular daily practice, as opposed to just an occasional event, the mental and physical benefits are huge and lasting. Not only do we worry less, but creativity seems to improve – leading to recognizing options for helping ourselves through difficult times.

Perspective. Considering a longer term point of view can be very helpful. Look at economic cycles over a hundred year time frame. There have always been ebbs and flows. Some are a little more pronounced than others, but the pendulum is always swinging. And remember, when the pendulum is out at its farthest point, it is poised to reverse course. Always has, always will. Everything in life is temporary, including whatever situation you find yourself in at the moment.

Friends and Family. A joy shared is doubled, a problem shared is halved. I’m not encouraging you to spend a lot of energy ruminating with others about your situation, but it’s helpful to talk with those close to you about your concerns, brainstorm ideas, and give and get emotional support. Instead of going out to dinner, have a potluck evening with friends, and play some board games or watch a movie. Rediscover the joys, and savings, of quiet evenings at home with family. Help friends out and save money at the same time. Instead of hiring a babysitter, take turns taking care of a friend’s children, giving you each a day or evening of free sitting!

Be Proactive. We have become a society of spenders. It is as much a habit as was saving for those who grew up during the depression. But habits can be changed. Make a game out of saving money. How much can you save each week if you just ask yourself the questions, “Do I really need this right now?” or, “If I don’t have this, will it really affect my life?” or “Can I accomplish the same thing for less?” For example, books are my addiction. I’m always buying books. But most of them I only read once, and I could easily get them for free from the library. Do you need all those premium cable channels, or would it be cheaper to just rent the DVD’s (or get for free from the library)? Have a family contest to see who saves the most each week.

Avoid “Hard” News. Years ago, holistic physician, Andrew Weill started telling people to avoid TV news programs and now there are studies that actually show that people’s stress levels decline when they stop reading the paper and watching the news. You can replace news with watching or reading humorous stories to raise endorphin levels.

Practice Gratitude. For all the struggles we have, we are truly fortunate. My mother grew up during the depression, one of twelve children, in a three bedroom house without indoor plumbing or electricity, and with winters that regularly saw temperatures below freezing and snow measured by the foot rather than the inch. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen a lot of the world, including some third world countries, where even today, people live in hovels. I am truly grateful to be living here, and at this time. I’m grateful for friends and clients and good health and music and books and my critters and so many wonderful things in life. I’ll bet you have quite a list too – review it regularly!

Dr. Lee Bowers is a Psychologist in Villanova. She can be reached at 610-520-0433, leebowers@comcast.net leebowers@comcast.net, or www.drleebowers.com.