THE BLOG

How To Escape Meltdown Mania

11/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Mar 17, 2015

If you find yourself freaking out over the current financial situation, stressed to the max and otherwise emotionally drained, this post is for you!

The sources of the current economic distress may be complex, or they may be simple, depending on your point of view. I'm of the mind that there are simple reasons that play out in complex terms. It's a little late to turn back the greed clock, but it may not be too late to change the way the whole situation impacts you on a personal level.

Your pocketbook, your bank account, even your job and home may be caught up in the sweeping panic, but that doesn't mean you have to be swept along as well. I'm referring to who you really are, deep inside and not so much to all the things, as in things, that many of us tend to identify with. If this notion is new to you, please take a look at this earlier post of mine on Symbols vs. Experience.

My retirement accounts are sharply down, right along with everyone else who is still invested. Whether that turns out to be a good idea or just plain lunacy remains to be seen. However, my emotional bank account is just fine. Well, most of the time anyway.

That's because I understand a very simple, although not necessarily easy to follow concept: energy follows thought.

On Thursday, I put up a post about how people are responding to the "financial train wreck." Today, I'm using the term "meltdown."

These kinds of terms, along with others such as "crisis," "panic," and today's HP Business lead "gut-wrenching volatility" are part of the problem. I apologize for leading with "meltdown" myself. The intent was to grab your interest, and then refocus attention and awareness.

Here's the deal: terms like meltdown, train wreck, crisis, gut-wrenching, and panic all conjure up emotions, none of them very positive. As a psychologist turned business person, I see how these kinds of terms play out in everyday life, how they can be used to manipulate other people, and most importantly, how they can distort the experience of life at a very personal and apparently very real level.

Take "meltdown" for starters. What's melting? Well, besides the polar ice caps (that's another issue altogether). But what's melting financially? Well, nothing, really. Stocks, bonds, and other measures of finance may be changing, as they always do, but nothing is actually melting. If we were seeing "normal" ups and downs of 50-100 points, no one would be talking about meltdowns now would they? What's the difference between down 100 and down 700? Just degree, right? But nothing is melting. And if it goes up 500, 700 or more, what do you call that? Refreezing? Hardly.

So what's my point? Is there a difference between what happens to your bank account and what happens to you? I sure hope you can see the difference. Did you spend any time yesterday or today, perhaps having breakfast, playing with your kids, or just watching television? If so, you may well have experienced an hour or two where you were just fine. Your stomach was OK, your nerves calm, your emotions at rest.

On the other hand, have you spent any time in the past 48 hours twisted into knots because of something you read, watched, thought or talked about relative to the current financial situation?

So what changes between the times you are calm, relaxed and otherwise just fine and the times you become stressed, emotionally upset, and distraught?

My suggestion is that the only thing that changes is your focus and what you tell yourself about the meaning of the current situation. Energy follows thought.

If some part of you can be at peace, even for a few minutes, then peace is available to you despite what is going on around you. Please, do get this message. It is absolutely critical if you want to get through this current situation in a more balanced, healthy way.

You can focus on negative scenarios, on negative commentary, on your own fears and negative thoughts if you like. And, no sooner do you focus on the negative then some part of you notices your focus, determines it is negative, and cooperates fully by supplying all the necessary negative emotions to match the negative thoughts or negative focus. The peace you were experiencing recedes to the background while the object of your focus takes over. And, the next time you choose to play with the kids, etc, the peace comes right back.

Again, that's because energy follows thought.

Have you ever had a thought you wished you weren't thinking? Who noticed?

Have you ever had an emotion or feeling you wished you weren't feeling? Who noticed?

I'm suggesting that who you are is much more than thoughts and feelings. Who you are comes with thoughts and feelings, it's just not who you are.

So, if you don't like what you are feeling, change your focus, change your thoughts.

Now this gets dangerously close to "positive thinking." Please, do not confuse this advice with positive thinking. That can be a form of denial: it's hard to frame the current financial situation as positive (unless you are rooting for the fall of other people or institutions).

However, you can maintain a positive focus as you find your way through the current situation. What would that look like? You might keep reminding yourself of the difference between Symbols vs. Experience; you might notice the choices you have made that wound exposing yourself to financial risk so you can make different choices going forward; you might focus more on the quality of relationship you have with family and friends and how you can deepen or improve them.

There are all manner of ways to enjoy a positive focus in the midst of the current situation. You don't have to like the current situation, and you don't have to keep focusing on it either.

For me, I am being tested every day to see if I really can live this way of being as a practical reality, or am I just blowing smoke. The difference? Focus! Stay tuned - more to come next week.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.

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If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.