As a psychologist, I am starting to see the effects of the recession in my therapy groups. When the difficult financial news first hit and was coupled with all of the tension around the presidential elections, I consistently checked in with my groups to see how group members were doing with these added environmental stressors. I was amazed that they weren't reporting more problems. Those who were in touch with the financial markets felt it right away, but it has taken a couple of months, it seems, for the general population to absorb the effects of the recession. So what am I looking at now? How does stress from the recession tend to manifest in our day to day lives? Well, initially I'd say that it exacerbates already existing conditions, people who tend toward depression, in other words, become more depressed, people who tend toward anxiety become anxious more quickly and those who are easily irritated are even more easily irritated. I'm seeing a lot of sleep disturbances, tossing and turning, shortened hours and less deep sleep, some report sleeping more. I am also seeing some extra agitation and moodiness. People get irritated at little annoying things in their environment that normally might not bother them all that much. Suddenly their husband's being at home more is a real pain, or their wife being reluctant when it comes to having sex feels worse than it normally does. Or they take stress out on themselves, their own mistakes feel huge inside of them and they worry about something they may have done wrong or could have done differently. They just don't have the reserves to handle little life problems as well as they normally might. This is also a time when I am on the look out for relapse. Alcoholics are at increased risk for picking up a drink, those with compulsive eating issues might tend to eat more (or less) and sex addicts might prowl around the internet or act out more than usual.
Just knowing that this is a time of stress can help you to manage it more effectively. Unfortunately, when we're under stress we tend to take worse care of ourselves than normal. See if you can reverse that process and take better care of yourself then normal. Following are survival tips for the recession:
• Awareness: Be aware that these are times of unusual stress and link your extra moodiness to extra stress in the environment so you won't take it out on those close to you and make it about them and whatever they may or may not be doing.
• Get Extra Rest and Relaxation: Stress uses up our stores of energy and calm and effects sleeping patterns, we need to consciously restore ourselves through added rest and relaxation.
• Breathe: If you can take a few moments several times a day to deepen and even out your breathing it will smooth out your heart rate rhythms and calm your nervous system which will have an overall calming effect on your body.
• Back Up, Don't Blame: If you find yourself getting more easily irritated, back up and take a break or at least some mental distance, remember there is a lot of stress out there that may be making things feel worse than they need to feel. Get up for a minute, take a short break, go out for a walk, or change your activity.
• Exercise: Exercising gets the bodies natural opoid system going and has a soothing and calming effect on both the body and the mind, it's also proactive, it's something we can do to feel good.
• Enjoy yourself: If you are attempting to spend less, remember not to deprive yourself of enjoyment, do what you normally do, only do it more conservatively. Cook a nice dinner and eat it by candlelight or watch a fun movie with the family and a bowl of popcorn. Take a walk with a friend, do a pleasant errand but buy less, go to a movie, out for a dessert or have friends in for a pot luck dinner. Go sliding, skating, for a picnic, or to the beach depending on where you live. Have fun, fun is a great stress buster.
• See the Gifts and Silver Linings: Realigning our value system to include more quality time with family, self and friends is a benefit to having less disposable income. When we can't buy more, we may find ourselves appreciating what we already have, which actually makes less feel like more. If there is less work, parents have more time to spend with their kids and families. We have more time to finally do those things we've never had time for, to get projects done or even to get creative and open up new sources of income.
Remember, nothing lasts forever, this too shall pass. Use this time to develop some added good habits and character strengths that will benefit you long after the recession is over.