Overcome Fear in the Economic Crisis
It seems that you can’t go even one day without hearing a comment, a remark, a report, or an article highlighting the current economic downturn. How can we keep a positive attitude during these tough economic times?
It has become an unavoidable topic that comes up during business meetings, lunches, and social gatherings. A friend recently was forced to sell his house, and shared with me the tales of money lost and his many frustrations. Another friend jokingly remarked, “my 401K has turned into my 201k, I might as well have not worked for the past two years.”
I’ve done my best not to focus any energy on this topic, until I recently started receiving email from readers asking for advice on how to deal with the current economic situation, emotionally. Here is one such email from a generous reader that encapsulates the topic nicely:
“I am a recent graduate from a Masters program, have a very good job, but am constantly worried about what the future holds for me financially. Since most of the troubles in the world are out of my hands, how can I keep an upbeat attitude about life in general, during these tough times that are affecting so many hard working people.”
– James Richter
In this article, I will give my own perspective on this topic, and relay specific tips on dealing with fear during an economic downturn.
Finding Control, Again
I left my day job four months ago, and now rely on income from various investments. Interestingly, the majority of my investments are in the stock market. When the market crashed this year, I watched as my portfolio declined by as much as 50%. It is still below 50%.
Suddenly, my hard earned, frugally saved, carefully budgeted savings appeared to have been chopped in half. Given that I don’t have guaranteed income, I am a single woman, and my net worth just declined significantly, conventional wisdom would say that I should be worried. I should be freaking out! But I’m not. I’m pretty happy, actually.
What can I change by becoming upset, anxious, or nervous? Nothing. By complaining or allowing my body to suffer through anxiety, I will accomplish nothing.
I choose not to focus any energy on something that puts me in an un-resourceful state. Remember, what we focus on expands. We will get more of whatever we focus our attention on. We get more of what we think about, talk about, and listen to.
I know that when I focus on fear, I experience more fear, and I find more reasons to become more fearful. It’s a downward and bottomless spiral, until I consciously and proactively interrupt that pattern and deliberately choose to focus on something else more productive and conducive to my wellbeing.
First, recognize that there are many things out of our control; things like, the weather, the past, other people, and the economy. Anxiety, worry and fear usually come when we focus on these external things that we cannot control. Recall the last time you were really worried or nervous about something. What were you focused on? Was it something external that was beyond your control?
Second, recognize that we do have choices. We always have choices. We may feel that we don’t have a choice, because we don’t want to face the options – our pride and ego becoming hurt.
Photo: Sara Lando
There is one thing we definitely have control over, and that is, we have control over the meaning which we give to things and circumstances. We have a choice in the perspective which we use to interpret a given situation. When we shift what something means to us, we shift our interpretation of it, and therefore we shift our emotions. Thus, we hold the key to our own emotional wellbeing.
For me, it also helps to remember that regardless of what is happening to me financially or emotionally, the most precious of things – my true inner self, the essence of my Being, the divine presence within me that occasionally reveals itself with infinite wisdom – will never be threatened. It is a blessing to be reminded that we are not our job titles, we are not the things we own, we are not our circumstances and we are not our thoughts. And we certainly are not the fear running through our minds.
A full life is one that’s rich with experiences. Opportunities for deeply rewarding and high-growth experiences often present themselves, initially, in the form of adversities. It is through overcoming these adversities and challenges that we develop personal strengths, character and wisdom – without which, we’d be pretty boring and we’d be pretty bored with life.
What if we looked for the gift in the perceived adversity? Try asking different questions. Instead of asking “Why me?” or complaining “Poor me”, consider asking yourself the following.
- What can I learn from this situation?
- How can I use this adversity to become a better person?
- How can I use this opportunity to serve others and myself?
- What can I do to get to where I want to be?
- What can I do to gain the clarity I need, to shift into a more resourceful state?
- How can I benefit from this situation?
What if we focused on things that really matter to us, instead of things beyond our control that “might” happen at some distant future? Focusing on the fear of something that might happen is a waste of resources on several accounts. For one, the thing you fear may never happen, meaning the times you’ve spent worrying about it have been a waste of energy, a waste of emotion, and a waste of attention. For another, the energy used on worrying could have been spent on doing something more proactive and actually helpful to your situation.
Imagine, instead of spending time finding and reading news stories on why we should be fearful, use that time and energy to do something more meaningful to you and that can actually benefit you; things like, spending time developing relationships with the people you love, connecting with another human being, communing with nature, reading something uplifting, listening to something empowering, learning a new skill, or brushing up on an old skill.
You are the author of your life story. Make it worthwhile!
1. Focus on What You Can Control
What we focus on can drastically change how we feel. I know how tough it can be to focus on anything other than the present pain in front of us. I’ve been there, it sucks! But it is possible to shift our focus with the intention of shifting our emotional state.
It is worthwhile to note that it’s nearly impossible to skip emotional levels. For example, we can’t suddenly go from resentment to excitement. Emotionally, it’s easier to shift from resentment to anger, from anger to being upset, from being upset to indifference, from indifference to fondness, etc. With baby steps, gradually, we really can shift how we feel.
Recognize that you are in control. You can choose to focus on a perspective that helps you. See how you can change the meaning of an external circumstance to one which will benefit you?
For example, we can’t control the up and down movement of a particular stock, but we can choose to see that this stock is just money, and money is a replenish-able resource that we can always make more of. We can choose to see that our health is worth more than stressing over something we cannot control.
Photo: Vanessa Paxton
2. Eliminate or Drastically Reduce News Consumption
When was the last time popular news sources reported something uplifting, empowering and conflict-free? This rarely happens because it is not “newsworthy”, and almost never will you find uplifting news on the front page.
Newsworthy means: conflict, wars, gossip, suffering, and fear. It may not be a news agency’s sole intent to instill fear within us but it is the job of reporters to create content that highlights problems and exaggerates the stress of current situations. If it wasn’t emotionally disturbing, people wouldn’t read or watch the news, and the agencies would soon be out of business. When was the last time you felt good after watching the nightly news or reading the front page stories?
How does constantly reading about the credit crisis, the mortgage crisis, the stock market crash, or the recession empower us or uplift us or increase our wellness? How does it help us? The constant reminders keep us focused on fear, instead of solutions and hope. Even people who shouldn’t be worried are worrying, unnecessarily.
What are the most important things in your life? What are you grateful for? Who do you love? List them out on a piece of paper, then close your eyes and see them in your imagination. Feel the feelings of gratitude. Do this regularly.
For me, what matters most are my relationships with my close friends and family. The intimate moments of connection with another soul are one of the most precious, uplifting, and fulfilling things we can experience. I treasure that beyond anything else.
Focusing on the priceless and intangible things that grace my life helps me to put things into perspective. When put into perspective, I realized that I would trade all my material possessions in exchange for my health and relationships. And even if I lost all my money and possessions, I know that with the support of those I love, good health and determination, I can always bounce back.
See how a shift in perspective can suddenly make you feel wealthy?
4. Stop Spreading Fear
Stop complaining about your economic pains, stop forwarding news articles of fear to your friends, stop talking about it, and start doing things within your control. If your immediate basic needs are threatened (ie. loss of job, shelter and food), take action, massive action, to help yourself. The only exception to talking about your economic situation is when you ask for help from others during a time of need.
5. Things Will Bounce Back
You are not alone. We are all in this together. History will repeat itself, and our economy will bounce back. Winters will come and will eventually pass. Hang on tight, and in the meanwhile, do whatever it takes to sustain yourself.
6. Enhance Your Assets
In alignment with doing things within your control, see if there are a set of skills for your trade that you could improve upon or learn. The easiest route to job security is to become an invaluable, flexible and multi-skilled team player. Commit to becoming undeniably outstanding in what you do, and never stop learning.
7. Emergency Fund
Just because we choose to not focus on fear, does not mean that we will not prepare for a rainy day. Building an emergency fund is a must practice at all times, not just during the recession.
If you are not struggling to sustain your basic needs, make it a priority to build your emergency fund. Regardless of how little money you can set aside each month, do it. It’s the practice of saving that’s important here. Do so diligently, and you will reap the rewards in a time of need.
8. Focus on the Benefits
There are benefits from the economic crisis. Here are some:
- Lower gas prices
- Real-estate prices are lower, if you’re in the market to buy and have the capital to do so, you’re likely to get great deals.
- Stock prices are cheaper. Warren Buffet, said: “Now is the time to buy!”
- Reduced consumption and travel is having a positive effect on landfills and reduces ones carbon foot print. Reduced consumption also means owning less stuff that we don’t need, which can benefit our mental wellbeing.
9. Choose Happiness
Choosing happiness does not mean becoming vulnerable or ignorant to world issues. It doesn’t mean painting a fake smile on our faces, either. It simply means that we are deliberately choosing to focus on things that are beautiful, things that give us joy, that make us smile, and that make us feel grateful to be alive.
Every day, we are surrounded by these pockets of miracles and opportunities for happiness. Just like fear, the capacity to experience joy and the recognition of miracles is also a choice. Which do you choose?
Before we part ways, spend a few minutes with Nick Vujicic, an extraordinary human being born without arms and legs. Living a life filled with obstacles, in what some consider impossible conditions, Nick has excelled and now travels the world to bring tales of hope and inspiration to millions.
Now, think of your worst problems. Now, look at Nick’s attitude toward life. Suddenly, with a little shift in perspective, life isn’t that bad after all.
*** Do you have any words of encouragement for those suffering as a result of the current economic conditions? Have anything to add? Share your thoughts in the comment section. See you there!