Friday, October 03, 2008

"Managing Stress in Tough Economic Times"

On September 16, 2008, the Pennsylvania Psychological Association circulated in its emailed newsletter, and posted on its website, an article entitled "Managing Stress in Tough Economic Times" (Word format, 2 pages) that focused upon the personal tension felt by many of us during an economic downturn.

The article acknowledged the special nature of financial-based stress, and then suggested actions to deal with it. I reproduce the article with permission previously granted by the PPA.

Managing Stress in Tough Economic Times

by Nancy Molitor, Ph.D., APA Member

As talk of falling housing prices, rising consumer debt and declining retail sales bring up worries about the nation's economic health, more Americans could feel additional stress and anxiety about their financial future. There are healthy strategies available for managing that stress during tough economic times.

Money is often on the minds of most Americans. In fact, money and work are two of the top sources of stress for almost 75 percent of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association's 2007 Stress in America Survey. Add to the mix, headlines declaring a looming economic recession, and many begin to fear how they can handle any further financial crunch.

But, like most of our everyday stress, this extra tension can be managed. Psychologists first recommend taking pause and not panicking. While there are some unknown effects in every economic downturn, our nation has experienced recessions before.

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association offers these tips to help deal with your stress about money and the economy:
  • Pause but don't panic. There are many negative stories in newspapers and on television about the state of the economy. Pay attention to what's happening around you, but refrain from getting caught up in doom-and-gloom hype, which can lead to high levels of anxiety and bad decision making.
  • Avoid the tendency to overreact or to become passive. Remain calm and stay focused. Identify your financial stressors and make a plan.
  • Take stock of your particular financial situation and what causes you stress. Write down specific ways you and your family can reduce expenses or manage your finances more efficiently. Then commit to a specific plan and review it regularly. 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 from a psychologist or community mental health clinic before the problem gets worse.
  • Turn these challenging ties into opportunities for real growth and change. Times like this, while difficult, can offer opportunities to take stock of your current situation and make needed changes.
  • 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. Having dinner at home with your family may not only save you money, but help bring you 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. They key is to use this time to think outside the box and try new ways of managing your life.
  • Ask for professional support. Credit counseling services and financial planners are available to help you take control over your money situation. If you continue to be overwhelmed by the 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.

For another helpful view, see "Staying Strong During Tough Times" (10/02/08), posted by The State Journal (West Virginia). David Clayman, Ph.D., a clinical and forensic psychologist, discusses "how individuals can find solace during difficult times." He relates reactions to the current crises, which are akin to the stages of coping that patients display when confronting death and dying.

On the other hand, as a long-time believer in the power of "positive thinking", also known as "optimism", I suggest that crisis time is the best time to assert that approach. For methods and tips to overcome negative self-talk and adopt optimism consciously instead, see: "Positive thinking: Practice this stress management skill" posted by the Mayo Clinic.
Practicing positive self-talk will improve your outlook. When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you're able to handle everyday stress in a constructive way. That ability may contribute to the widely observed health benefits of positive thinking.
Indeed, recent scientific studies confirm that positive belief alone makes a person healthier and longer-living.

In her article, "Positive Thinking Can Help You Feel Better, Longer" posted by, Sharon O'Brien reviewed research presented in "Onset of Frailty in Older Adults and the Protective Role of Positive Affect" by Glenn V. Ostir, Kenneth J. Ottenbacher, & Kyriakos S. Markides, of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, as published in Psychology and Aging, Vol. 19, No. 3.
Research published in Psychology and Aging, a journal from the American Psychological Association (APA), shows that while genetics and overall physical health play a part in how people age, positive thinking can also play an important role.

According to an APA news release, researchers found a link between positive emotions and the onset of frailty in 1,558 initially non-frail older Mexican Americans living in five southwestern states.

This was the first study to examine frailty and the protective role of positive thinking in the largest minority population in the United States. * * *
See also: "Study Verifies Power of Positive Thinking" (11/28/05), by Lauran Neergaard, posted by Life Science; and "Power of Positive Thinking May Have a Health Benefit, Study Says" (09/02/03), by Erica Goode, published by The New York Times.

Why does mental optimism affect our physical health positively?

While researchers in the study couldn't explain why positive thinking or positive emotions reduced the incidence of frailty, they speculated that positive thinking may directly affect health via chemical and neural responses that help maintain an overall health balance.

Another possibility, according to the researchers, is that positive thinking can have a beneficial effect on people’s health by increasing a person's intellectual, physical, psychological and social resources. * * *

This is the article's conclusion:
Try to focus your energy on positive thinking rather than negative thinking, and look for reasons to feel happy and hopeful every day.

If you put your energy toward positive thinking and ways to make your life more enjoyable, you may discover that positive thinking really does help you feel better.