Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jay Levin Headshot

Handling (or Mishandling) the Real Emotional and Life Shocks from Economic Uncertainty

Posted: Updated:

A question of the moment: How are your anxiety and anger levels doing as gas prices spike again and job growth volatility increases?

Historically, during similar phases in market capitalism, life automatically gets seriously tougher emotionally on huge numbers of people. Along come the predictable shock waves of human reactions: increased anxiety, shorter attention spans and more generalized irritability and anger -- usually accompanied by increased harsh judgment on yourself and others and by projections of ill intent on (and from) life partners, families, friends, co-workers and business partners.

As the current round of economic uncertainty and rising poverty levels spiders out through the society, such disorder levels may actually be nastier than usual.

The reason is simple, if painful. Even more so than during the crash of 2008, more of us sense on a deep psychic level (and tell pollsters) that the system is fundamentally broken. Our All-America take-it-to-the-bank faith that a recession leads to a strong recovery has been seriously disordered, if not shattered, by the persistence of high unemployment and by the vicious, detached-from-reality nature of U.S. politics -- to the degree that many people now suspect, and not surprisingly, that elections no longer make a difference.

At the same time the social contract underpinning the American Dream is decaying before our eyes. As it quivers and quakes, our apostles of darkness, including the nation's actually dreadful and reactionary mass media, feed all appetites for conflict and almost none for vision. Crazed and blind people locked in a room screaming at each other is what the public space amounts to. Manipulation of the highest order is fully in command rather than a call to a larger healthy collective vision, one wedded to support for the deep-seated need of the species (and of each of us), to grow beyond the current forms and to feel safe collectively.

Have you noticed that there isn't a single leader (much less a group of leaders) allowed routinely into the mass public space who commands a vision for the tribe that is grounded in love and wisdom even while there are many of us who live and express that vision publicly?

This deep background unease, this emerging sense that something fundamental has gone wrong -- as in fact it has -- has increased generalized anxiety and stress and allowed our existential fears to seep through cracks everywhere. This includes a toll taken on our inner and outer lives.

Therapists and social workers confirm rising emotional and psychological issues among the populace. Most humans are not trained to deal with uncertainty, the way astronauts are trained, and so we tend to trigger into confusion, anxiety, anger and depression when the Big U shows up.

As with any emotions, we can suppress them just so long before they find an outlet. One notable public outlet was Tea Party member public anger over Obamacare. One always reliable private outlet is our relationships with others, which tend to take poundings in down economic times unless we take the training to manage emotions.

More specifically, what cries out to be managed is what I call "obliteration fear" which arises alongside economic uncertainty. An inner dread of bleak fate buried in our neural pathways begins leaking into our consciousness alongside what for many of us is sheer survival stress. Misdirected anger usually follows.

Most of us are ill-trained by either family or society to deal creatively with this fear and anger. Instead, we rely on inadequate coping mechanisms we developed in childhood to manage personal and family stress and to compensate for our not getting our core needs met for healthy connection, safety, recognition and freedom to be ourselves.

There are only six coping mechanisms (and you can figure out which ones you use). They are fight, flight, seek approval, control, manipulate, or sacrifice yourself to "fix" or enable someone else. Unfortunately, they pacify only briefly while actually aggravating the underlying emotions (fear, anger, sadness/despair and shock). They also become our habitual, if counterproductive, ways of dealing with others in emotionally challenging or stressful moments.

As a life and relationship coach who trains people to transform these behaviors, I know there are healthy fixes that enrich a person's entire life. There isn't space here to share that training but I will explain one helpful relief practice called Soma Breathing.

When you find yourself short-tempered and on edge with co-workers, family or friends, instead of acting out, see if you can locate where the emotional pain and stress are most palpably present in your body. Focus on that part of your body and then simultaneously focus on directing your breath to that area. (Your mind can handle simultaneous focuses.) Don't change your breathing pattern; instead, simply guide the breath to the pained area and feel it touching the area as a sweet kiss of soothing. As you breathe out, imagine your breath carrying away a small amount of the stress.

Do this for a few minutes to warm up and then intuitively in your mind select and visualize a soothing color. Then imagine that color joining your breath so that the breath either is seen as colored itself or you visualize a bar of the color coming in with the breath. Again, guide the breath and color to your stressed body area. Continue with the breathing until you feel the emotional outburst or deep pain moment has passed.

Use this technique as frequently and as long as needed, with or without adding the color (use color only if, after testing it, you feel more soothed than with the breath only).

Emotional management techniques like this won't fix what's wrong with America; they will help you reach a state of mind where you can respond more creatively and pain-free to your particular circumstances without dragging emotional detritus from economic uncertainty and toxic politics into your relationships and communications.

Healthy relationships of all kinds (romantic, family, friends, colleagues) are meant to be safe havens in the storm of life, not opportunities to act out fears and anger. They are also a profound way to fortify ourselves so that we might actually respond calmly and innovatively to challenges. Bringing reactivity into relationships therefore is doubling down on the economic stress. To not do so is a win-win -- and who knows, one that might open the space inside you to demand leadership grounded in love and wisdom, or to lead from that place yourself.

From Our Partners