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Spiraling Down With Economic Woes - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spiraling Down With Economic Woes

March 19, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

According to the largest and most comprehensive study on American mental health and the economy, our stress continues to soar as our wallets are tightening. The Gallup-Healthways poll of over 355,000 Americans reports that our moods dropped considerably at the end of 2008 and continue to struggle as the recession now stretches into fifteen months.

This study tells us several things about what is going on with the American mood and money:

Emotional Blues Tied to Economic Blues: We are all basically worn out by all the continuing bad news. We have become ultra-sensitive and over-reactive as the recession drags out. As a result, our emotional well-being has been on a continuous roller coaster as the economy has shifted up and down.

Contagious Panic: We continue to drag one another down. Fourteen million more people worried about money at the end of 2008 than at the beginning. This poll demonstrates how money stress, panic and anxiety are contagious. If you lose your job, I’m going to begin worrying about mine, whether it is warranted or not. We are “herd creatures” and we influence one another more than we know.

Everyone is Affected: No one has been immune from this recession, making our moods even gloomier since the ill effects are so pervasive. Even the affluent have restricted their spending which is affecting everyone since their spending affects the economy disproportionately. According to the March 16, 2009 Gallup Poll, upper income spending fell by 38% since September 2008. The rest of us restricted our spending by 40%.

Money is closely tied to our mood since it provides choices and money provides control. It is an antidote to stress since it decreases helplessness and increases options and optimism. When money constricts, our mood constricts with it, and we spiral into frustration and irritability.

Unfortunately, that spiral becomes self-perpetuating and assumes a life of its own. People get caught in a “mind lock” of catastrophic thinking. Worst of all, they no longer pay attention to what they can do to improve their situation. Options appear and we ignore them.

Here is some good news about the American mindset:

Love is in the Air: We seem to be loving one another more! In November, the dating web site reported its largest membership growth since shortly after 9/11. The other dating web sites are up about 20%. Apparently, while we may spend less at the mall, we are spending more money on our love lives. This trend is actually quite adaptive since relationships build life satisfaction. Focusing on our relationships also distracts us from an unpredictable economy. Again, socially connected people have lower levels of depression, better immunity, more money and live longer.

Consumer Mood Improved: The March 17th Gallup poll indicated an improvement in consumer mood by 13 points over the previous week. The continuing spiraling down may be abated for the time being. However, it is important that we now begin spending more to get the economy rolling again.

Here is my final advice:

Relationships Don’t Fix Everything: Do not fly into a new relationship when you are panicked about your money. A new boyfriend cannot pay your credit card bill (hopefully not) so stay smart and keep working at your job. Keep your perspective accuracy when you are assessing how worthwhile a new relationship might be.

Panicked Minds Do Not Create Money: Our economy will never recover if we all remain frozen. Please begin spending sensibly again. Please discipline your mind to be more optimistic. People who still pull a paycheck need to start spending more of that paycheck to create jobs for the rest of us. Envision the economy as growing around you mightily and don’t dwell on bad economic news. If we all remain negative, the economy will slow down even more.

Redirect Negativity Away From You: Surround yourself with happy people and put the grumpy ones on “mute.” Mood is contagious and make sure you do not resonate to the difficult people around you. Remain focused on the positives and deflect negative comments and actions away from you. Remember that their bad mood is their problem, not yours.

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