How to Deal With the Constant Stress of a Battered Economy – 80% in US Stressed About Economy

Which comes first – fear or economic chaos? Companies as varied as Yahoo, American Express, and Time Inc. are laying off employees. Corporate profits are dropping. The stock market is in a chaotic panic. Housing prices have plunged. Consumer debt is on the rise. The U.S. economy is in a full blown recession, and possibly, a depression.

Money and the economy are at the top of a long list of stressors for Americans as reported in a recent study by Harris Interactive and the American Psychological Association (October, 2008). Eighty percent (80%) of Americans are stressed about the state of the economy.

So how do you manage the unyielding stress that comes with difficult economic times?

Identify Fear, Anxiety and Stress

The first step to overcoming stress is to correctly identify it. When you are afraid, your blood gathers in the large muscle groups such as those in your legs, preparing your body to flee. Your body freezes for a moment to gauge your possible reactions such what is the quickest escape route. The brain sounds the alarm to put your body on alert, making it edgy and ready for action. Accompanying this is an overwhelming flood of anxious, fearful thoughts which seem to be uncontrollable. This intense cycle of fear and worry can paralyze you. It also paralyzes the rational mind, making it difficult to think clearly.

Fear and stress are closely linked. When fear is sparked, the emotional brain begins its dance of anxiety, forcing the brain to focus on the perceived threat. The fearful mind spins in an endless loop of negative thoughts. Fear lies at the heart of all stress.

Stress is fear stretched out over time. It is the general alarm reaction sounded by the nervous system when you perceive that a demand is being made on you that you cannot handle. Once the alarm has focused your attention, the negative thought spirals, the racing heart, and the muscle tension are of no further assistance to you. On the contrary, long-term stress causes damage to your body on a number of levels – difficulty thinking clearly, damage to arteries, killing brain cells, and limiting the number of options open to you.

On the bright side, stress and fear can be managed depending on how you approach them. Nothing is more important right now than learning to manage your stress – the fate of the entire world may depend on a critical mass of people staying calm and overcoming stress.

Turn Off the Alarm

Once the stress is identified, the second step is to turn the alarm off. This is done through exercise, deep breathing, meditation, prayer or other means to clear your mind of negative thoughts. If you have not yet learned to clear your mind, a good place to start is my book, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought.’

Courage, Bravery and Heroism

The third step is the realization that courage is the antidote to fear. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is overcoming fear. This step involves taking concrete actions to keep moving forward in a constructive direction. By reframing the question as, “What am I willing to try?” you can make change exciting, rather than paralyzing. Courage is not the absence of fear but the exorcising of it. Feel the fear and push through it anyway. It is the conquering of the fear that makes one courageous. One cannot be brave without fear. Think of courage as a virtue to be exercised daily rather than imagining it as expressed only in acts of heroism. You are courageous…every day.

Focus on Gratitude

Another way to bounce back from stressful times is to direct your thoughts daily to those things for which you are grateful. This simple act connects you with your higher, more centered self. To do so, think about the following:

You are alive. You are loved by others. You can see, hear and breathe on your own. You can read and comprehend these words. You can vote in a country with freedom of speech and of religion.

All of these are basics which are often taken for granted. Make your own daily list of things for which you are grateful. By cultivating gratitude, you consciously move your thoughts away from the thousands of voices adding to the environment of fear and begin to stem the tide of stress.

Look for the Positive Meaning Amidst the Rubble

Finally, look deep into your current situation and seek any and all positive meanings that may be pulled from it. Every situation exists to teach you something. Your best strategy is to uncover those life-altering lessons in difficult times and use them to motivate you towards positive, constructive action.

An example of a life lesson in this situation is the realization that you are resilient, you will survive. And with that knowledge comes power (“If I can survive this, I can survive anything.”). With complete awareness, allow yourself to calmly and rationally consider what options are available to you to create your best possible future.

Remember that our country has survived such economic hardships in the past and we will survive this one. Americans are highly resilient. We will bounce back from this difficulty with more energy, greater innovation, and more wisdom than we had prior to it. That is what we do, for we are Americans. We don’t just roll. We bounce.


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