Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's The End Of The World As We Know It- Do You Feel Fine?

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

Are you old enough to remember the song? R.E.M. said it perfectly.... I just finished an interview with USA Today Weekend Magazine on the impact of the current financial crisis.  In speaking with the writer I asked which "crisis" she wanted to focus on? Was it the mortgage lending crisis? gas price crisis? food price crisis? bank bail out crisis? Which one?  And therein lies the reason we are in unprecedented times. 

We have as Ray Nagen, mayor of New Orleans  said "The Mother of All Storms" sitting on top of us and we don't know how big, how long or what the impact will be.  So what happens? We wait, we worry and we live in a time of stress.  With Hurricane Katrina it was just "those folks in New Orleans".  With Hurricane Ike it was Galveston. Fires in California, an earthquake in China.  But this is different. The impact of this crisis from a psychological standpoint is becoming global. It is impacting the world.  An epidemic of chronic stress? Yes. Who cares? We should. The impact of stress is no laughing matter, particularly in the short run. Our ability to  think clearly, control our emotions, regulate our bodily functions are all diminished.  Try thinking about a budget if you are freaking out.. Not good.  Now, think about everyone freaking out-- not good.

A large part of our ability to ride this crisis out and come out the other end is to regulate our emotions and take action to combat the stress response.  If we make an effort to get a grip on our stress response- to regulate our emotions than as the song says- it may be the end of the world- but we will in deed feel fine..

I'll be talking about this on Monday on my television segment but here's a little prelude:

Productive worry is worrying about situations that you can control. You can use productive worry to take actions that will reduce stress and anxiety. Unproductive worry is worrying about things that can’t be controlled. The problem with unproductive worry is that it doesn’t help you accomplish things, and it really only adds stress to the mind and body.  So what can you do when you find yourself worrying about things you can't control?

You need to shift gears and take action…

1. So if that’s making a budget, meeting with an accountant, trading in your car for a more fuel efficient vehicle, carpooling- anything that begins to attack the situation can help reduce stress.

2. Don’t saturate yourself with stressful information. Stay informed but take a news break- most people don’t need to track the stock market minute by minute…

3. Don’t let the rest of your life dwindle away.  Make sure you are paying attention to daily activities- family, friends, social, and recreation.

4. Finally- you need to remember that stress has a physical impact. Sometimes the easiest way to reduce stress is to work on the physical part. Learning meditation, progressive muscle relaxation are all important. But the simplest thing you can do is to pay attention to your stress levels throughout the day- every hour if possible, take a minute to breathe slowly and deeply. This will prevent the stress response from getting out of control. 

These are very uncertain times, and not having control can be unsettling, but if you take action on what you can control, you can turn unproductive worry into productive, healthy actions.  

Here is an interview I did with our local ABC affiliate about controlling stress during the financial crisis.

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