In Tough Times, Take Stock of Your Mental Health

We’ve all been glued to our newspapers, computers and TV sets reading about the latest updates on the economy, our investments and, ultimately, our fates. News reports are …

We’ve all been glued to our newspapers, computers and TV sets reading about the latest updates on the economy, our investments and, ultimately, our fates. News reports are riddled with foreboding phrases like “no end in sight,” “it’ll get worse before it gets better,” “the good times are over” and so on. Naturally, the current state of the economy has many people worried. What’s even more unfortunate than the dismal news on the financial front, however, is the effects this news is having on our health. Now you not only get to worry about your investments and bank accounts dwindling, but your physical and mental health too.

Though economic stress can affect every American, investors may be even more prone to its effects. This is because investors typically have more money tied up in this economy. Many investors, especially older ones, also rely a great deal on the dividends from their investments as a primary source of income. During the good times it’s easy to focus on an investment’s upside while ignoring its downside, which is that every investment by its mere nature is risky. In economically disadvantageous times, however, it’s difficult if not impossible to ignore the fact that substantial sums of money can disappear into thin air. All of this economic stress is exactly why NuWire recently spoke with Dr. Rosalind S. Dorlen, the American Psychological Association’s public education coordinator for New Jersey and a clinical psychologist who has worked with numerous CEOs, investment advisors, hedge fund managers and Wall Street executives. Being a 30-year psychology veteran, Dr. Dorlen is no stranger to economic downturns, and neither are her clients, which is why she’s the ideal expert to provide tips for maintaining your health and well being during the current recession, and how you can tell when you need to seek outside help.

Maintain a Healthy Perspective

Even young investors must realize that this is not the worst America’s ever seen. As bad as things got in the past this country survived, rebounded and eventually thrived, ushering in another wave of consumer spending and domestic and foreign investors who pumped money into the economy. “I think that people have forgotten that things are going to get better – because they will – but it’s going to take time,” Dr. Dorlen said. “You have to keep things in perspective.”

Perspective-wise, this country has seen worse. The Great Depression lasted for almost four years, during which time the stock market lost 90 percent of its value and one-quarter of all Americans were unemployed – statistics that are far worse than today’s. By 1933, however, the economy was once again growing. In 2000 and 2001 the economy also suffered greatly. The country reeled from back-to-back blows as the dot-com industry busted and, shortly thereafter, the country was seized by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Once again America managed to rebound. In fact, the economy bounced back so fiercely that commercial real estate, the stock market, home prices and patriotism soared. This end only came about recently as the housing bubble burst and credit crunch brought about our current economic troubles.

Get an Appropriate Amount of Sleep

Worrying or obsessing about the economy can cause many side effects, including an increase in one’s heart rate, blood pressure and level of anxiety. All of these things can lead to sleeplessness, which can breed more stress, as a lack of sleep leaves you with a foggy head, leading to poor decision making and an inability to perform one’s job to the best of one’s abilities.

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According to a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted by the University of Buffalo, people who sleep less than six hours during the work week are also five times more likely to develop abnormal blood sugar levels, which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. The study noted that sleep-deprived people may also be prone to mood swings and problems with memory and concentration. All of these things can make a high-demanding job more demanding and a financially difficult situation even harder to overcome.

Instead of compounding your problems by staying awake all night obsessing about every little news update, do yourself a favor and get some sleep – but not too much. “You have to get enough sleep but you don’t want to sleep too much,” Dr. Dorlen noted. Too much sleep can be a sign of depression. Most of us wish we could simply pull the covers over our eyes and wake up when all of this economic turmoil is over. However, if you find yourself unable or unwilling to get out of bed – or if you would rather sleep than engage in activities you used to enjoy – you may be depressed and in need of professional help.

Find Some Distractions

Speaking of activities you enjoy…when was the last time you went rock climbing, watched a basketball game with friends or got away for the weekend? The economy may have limited your ability to travel to a far-off destination, but it shouldn’t have completely eliminated life’s little indulgences. Remember that you had friends and hobbies before the recession.

Ignoring non-business-related activities won’t make your financial situation any better, but it may take a toll on your mental health. “You have to get back to simple pleasures to maintain some balance in your life,” Dr. Dorlen advised. “Focus on cultivating relationships, on reaching out to friends and family. Focus on conversation, on sleep, fun, spirituality, exercise. These are all helpful tools that can assist people when they’re struggling with tough times.”

Dr. Dorlen also noted that when you cut yourself off from friends and formerly pleasurable activities you cut yourself off from potential opportunities. “You need to be open and ready to reinvent yourself [in order] to start implementing some recession-proof strategies to manage your finances,” she said. “Instead of focusing on what you can’t control, focus and concentrate on what you can control. Formulate a Plan B.” By nurturing your network of friends and business acquaintances you keep yourself open to new job leads, business opportunities and potential investments. Maintaining friendships and relationships also ensures that you’ll have some shoulders to turn to when worries do consume you. Everyone needs someone to lean on during hard times, even if it’s just for a sympathetic ear or a comforting pat on the back.

Leisure activities can also provide the perfect segue way into another field. In fact, many high-powered businessmen and women become so jaded or resentful of their high-stress, high-demand jobs that they jump ship completely, opting for jobs that provide them with more fulfillment, satisfaction, fun and enrichment than they ever imagined. Though switching careers can be a scary prospect in this economy, what’s even scarier is pigeon-holing yourself into one job, title, profession or industry. People, like investments, must remain diverse in order to ensure that one dropped basket won’t break all the chicken’s eggs.

Don’t Cope with Mind-Altering Substances

Everyone deals with stress differently, and many people turn to alcohol when they need to “blow off some steam.” Joining your co-workers for an occasional happy hour or asking your friends to meet you at the corner bar after a particularly grueling day is fine. Having to drink a six-pack just to unwind from the daily grind or financial reports is not. “Don’t increase your use of alcohol or other substances,” Dr. Dorlen said. “These are red flags that you’re not coping well with stress.”

These substances may seem like quick fixes, but in reality they can do far more damage than good. Random drug tests and poor job performance due to substance abuse can get you fired. They can also ruin relationships, including those with spouses, children, extended family, friends and colleagues. Even if you no longer work in the same office or field as your old bosses or colleagues it’s a bad idea to let drugs or alcohol dictate how these relationships will play out. Aside from maintaining some dignity and self respect, getting drunk and telling your former boss what you really thought of him can permanently damage your credibility within a given field or city. The economy will rebound, but your professional reputation may not if you abuse mind-altering substances and act like you have nothing to lose.

Know When to Ask for Help

Asking for help is never easy, regardless of whether that refers to money, job leads or professional help. Though more money or a better job can be hard to come by, professional assistance is easy to obtain. Many employee health plans include mental health coverage, which remain completely confidential. There are also support groups, both online and in-person, as well as hotlines, seminars, clinics and private practices that all provide support to individuals in distress. This support not only extends to individuals who are having thoughts of killing or harming themselves or others, but to anyone who feels overwhelmed, overburdened or overly stressed by the current events.

Anyone who feels that the economy – or anything else, for that matter – is affecting their interpersonal relationships, ability to cope, sleeping and eating patterns or overall enjoyment of life should seek help. A professional counselor or psychologist can evaluate your mental and physical states, providing, in the process, some solutions that can put you on the path to recovery, regardless of whether or not the economy follows suit.


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