As the housing market wallows in a large-scale downdraft and prices at the grocery store and the gas pump hover in uncharted territory, these are not times that breed a lot of confidence. The unsteadiness of today’s economy is pinching more than Americans’ wallets. It is gripping with a firm hand and squeezing stress from a populace low on the belief that the situation might shake its head and pull a U-turn.
The June Consumer Confidence Index, a survey that assesses the economic morale of Americans, shows that the vast majority of us consider business conditions and the job market to be in poor shape, with no signs of alleviation. While the Expectation Index, a survey of future conditions, fell to an all-time low, the Index on a whole recorded its fifth lowest reading ever.
It may not be a surprise, then, that two-thirds of Americans label the economy a significant source of stress, and that 75 percent are stressed by money. These findings from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual mid-year poll show a financial future marked by gloom. “There’s a sense for people that this is out of their control,” says Dr. Nancy Molitor, a spokesperson for the APA and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She says that this can result in feelings of helplessness, which can further compound the condition.
“Anxiety is typically defined as fear of the unknown,” she says. So while a murky future can elicit stress, so too can stress itself — and alarmist reports in the media. “Stress breeds stress,” she explains. “You can’t get away from the news, but it doesn’t mean you personal- ly have to buy into the doom and gloom.”
What can you do? Consider the following five points:
Rising Above the Strain
PAUSE BUT DON’T PANIC There are many negative stories in newspapers and on television about the state of the economy. Try to refrain from getting caught up in doom-and-gloom hype, which can lead to high levels of anxiety and poor decision-making. Avoid the tendency to overreact or to become passive. Remain calm and stay focused.
IDENTIFY YOUR FINANCIAL STRESSORS Take stock of your financial situation. Write down specific ways you can reduce expenses or manage your finances more efficiently. Although this can be anxiety-provoking in the short term, putting things down on paper and committing to a plan can reduce stress. If you are having trouble paying bills or staying on top of debt, reach out for help by calling your bank, utilities or credit card company.
RECOGNIZE HOW YOU DEAL WITH STRESS RELATED TO MONEY In tough economic times some people are more likely to relieve stress by turning to unhealthy activities like smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating. The strain can also lead to more conflict and arguments between partners. Be alert to these behaviors — if they are causing you trouble, consider seeking help before the problem gets worse.
TURN CHALLENGES INTO OPPORTUNITIES Times like this, while difficult, can offer opportunities. Think of ways that these economic challenges can motivate you to find healthier ways to deal with stress. Try taking a walk — it’s an inexpensive way to get good exercise. Have dinner at home — it may not only save you money but help bring your family closer together. Consider learning a new skill. Take a course through your employer or look into low-cost resources in your community that can lead to a better job.
ASK FOR PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT Credit counseling services and financial planners are available to help you take control over your financial situation. If you continue to be overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk with a psychologist who can help you address the emotions behind your financial worries, manage stress, and change unhealthy behaviors.