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Economic Stress: Don’t be Chicken Little

Under UmbrellaRecently, I talked about ‘rehearsing” your brain for job loss. Aunt Toby believes in the pragmatic and salutary effects of working through your own ‘worst case’ scenarios and coming up with answers.

Brain Rehearsal for Job Loss

Obviously, other people take a different approach:

“..a few months ago, Ms. Hubbard, a graphic designer in Cambridge, Mass., began having panic attacks over the economy, struggling to breathe and seeing vivid visions of “losing everything,” she said.
She “could not stop reading every single economic report,” was so “sick to my stomach I lost 12 pounds” and “was unable to function,” said Ms. Hubbard, 52, who began, for the first time, taking psychiatric medication and getting therapy. …Anxiety is not just troubling those with much to lose, like older people and homeowners. Elizabeth Dewey-Vogt, 25, a paralegal whose bills and shrinking overtime made her move in with her parents in Alexandria, Va., said she began “constantly worrying about finances,” and having panic attacks, “rapid heart beat, choking sensation, chills or sweating, numbness and tingling in my fingers,” and feeling “almost removed from my body.”
Ms. Dewey-Vogt said that she now took anxiety medication, and that a therapist advised her to pull over or “concentrate on the license plate ahead” if she began panicking while driving and to grip on the handles of her chair when panicking at work.

People Entering Therapy Due to Economic Stress

As much as Aunt Toby is a big believer in ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ and admits to never, ever having a license to prescribe anything other than a good bowl of soup and a hot shower, I think something is missing here: People are concentrating on stuff they cannot possibly control and getting medicated for the feelings that doing this generates.

I’m going to repeat something because I think this is key to surviving what will probably be at least a year if not two (or three or even five) of absolutely ‘in-the dumpster’ economy: Concentrate only (ONLY!) on stuff you can control. Do not concentrate on stuff that is in the hands of people or forces that are global or national in scope. Concentrate on you and your family. That’s it. If you can’t put your arms around it and hug it tightly to your heaving bosom, then let it go.

Do you have a say in what banks are doing with their TARP money and with how tight their corsets on credit are? If you do, I hereby give you permission to go out there, clean their clocks, fire the villains at the top, and make banking boring again. Oh, you DON’T? Well, then don’t worry about that. If you need credit in some form, then it’s time to think creatively: angel networks, your neighbors, businesses your business does business with, local credit unions, etc.

Do you have a say in what the Fed Rate is this month? If so, I think it’s time for you to go have a heart to heart with Ben Bernake. Oh, you DON’T? Well, then don’t worry about that.

Do you have control in how you do your job? How you are perceived at work? What sort of upgrades in training you will get for yourself? How many people you keep up with and network with on an ongoing basis? How you are taking care of yourself? How you are listening and interacting with your SO? How you use/or not your credit cards?

Ah. Stuff you can control.

As some of my readers know, Aunt Toby is “stone-like a rock-set off a bomb next to me and I won’t know it” deaf. I became deaf because I inherited a genetic disposition to something called Otosclerosis (which is to the little bones in the ear what arthrosclerosis is to the highways that push blood around our bodies). Although for the moment, I have a military-grade, ruggedized hearing aid that does a wonderful job of ‘making the dog bark louder’, it is the business of otosclerosis that eventually, it invades the aural nerve and that’s it. Yes, there are some amazing technologies out there(which all seem to revolve around someone drilling a hole in my skull and implanting something which requires me to smear antibiotic ointment everywhere around it; considering I get the creeps from the idea of putting contact lenses in my eyes, this is waaaay beyond ‘acceptable medical risk’ for your dear Aunty), but long ago, I decided to come to terms with a future without sound. I did the research, spoke to my doctor and audiologist, and although things have not gone exactly the way we figured (I thought menopause was going to be the ‘pull the plug out of the wall’ moment; the hearing has gotten worse, but I’m still hanging in there and so far, technologies in telecom and hearing aids have kept pace), the future still looks the same. Sometimes it gets really upsetting – there is no doubt about that. Sometimes, I get a bit anxious about what it will be like communicating with family members once the whole thing craps out. I do know that there might be a moment when my boss and I will have to sit down and talk about changing my job in ways that perhaps we had not expected before.

But I refuse to be afraid. I really have no control over how fast this process is going to be or when the ultimate moment is going to take place. I may literally wake up one morning and not even be able to say ‘good morning’ to the DH. Being deaf is not going to mean that I will become any better of a housekeeper or worse an accountant. It will mean that probably I will have to do more communicating through IM and email rather than over the phone. My boss is the sort of person who as long as I am really painfully straight with him over what is happening, he is a really good Joe. Not everyone’s boss is like mine; I know that. But I concentrate on thinking through what I can do to continue working, what I can do to expand my skills, what I can do to bring more value to what I do. I do not focus on stuff I can’t control – that sort of thing makes me anxious and upset.

Gaining a sense of control over various areas of your life is key to surviving crazy times. Spend your energies on you and yours – the rest will have to take care of itself.
(Umbrella photo courtesy of Purplemattfish

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  1. Ian Welsh says:

    Good advice.

    Now I’ll go give some people some more stress attacks. 😉

  2. Toby Wollin says:

    Ian – you and I are like the Siskel and Ebert of Economics — you get everyone all riled up – I’m here with the chicken soup, cinnamon rolls and hand-holding. We’re the perfect pair.
    And I recommend going to Ian’s site to read his stuff on economics – fortify yourself with a good cup of coffee and something to eat – he doesn’t make this easy – but he will open your mind…a LOT.

  3. Erin says:

    This is EXACTLY what I told my husband. He was making himself (and me) crazy with all the doom and gloom and frustration and anger about things he had no power over. Instead, I said, let’s keep focused on, minimizing our expenses, paying down our debts and you keeping your job. That is all we can do. I don’t listen to the news much and you know what? It doesn’t change my daily world to NOT know what the knuckleheads in Washington have done this time. Life feels good for now…

  4. htwollin says:

    Well, for those of us, ahem of a certain age, who went through (pick one) the 1974-76 recession, the early 1980s recession, losing a job, being fired, a traumatic loss of a family member, any major medical emergency..or any combination thereof (and in my case, all of ’em and in a couple of cases, multiple times), there is this thing called….’distance’. Memory serves me that any and all were horrific, nasty…but did not last forever. And what we might have at the after end might NOT be better. But it WILL be different and going nuts in the meantime won’t prepare any of us to be able to take advantage of what comes. Companies that survived the Great Depression were the ones that invested in themselves, modernized, did research and developed new products and advertised. The ones that hunkered down, refused to spend, laid a bunch of people off and waited for something to improve…many times did not survive. People thought they were out of business. Before the Great Depression, the big cereal company was Post – after the Great Depression? Post? Who’s Post?

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