LIfe's Big Questions: How Can I Face This Financial Stress?
Who among us didn't wake up earlier this week with a pit in our stomach, worried about how the collapse of the financial market might affect us, our nest eggs, and all the hopes, dreams, and plans our investments represent?
The Checkup can't offer money-management advice. But, with the help of a pair of experts, we can share tips for maintaining some measure of calm, even as the stock market acts erratically:
- Seek Perspective: Mary Alvord, a psychologist with offices in Rockville and Silver Spring, jokes that if we want to avoid worry, "Don't ever read that stuff" -- news about financial crises. But seriously, she says, "It's not about 'Do not read...' the bad news. I think we need to be informed. But don't get sucked into too much of the doom and gloom," she counsels. "Understand it is a difficult time right now. But it's important for people to put it into perspective." Even with all the bad news out there, she notes, there are always glimmers of hope. Don't forget to include them in your overall assessment of how things are going.
- Try Not to Worry: In terms of stress management, Alvord says, ask yourself, "'How is it helping me to worry?' A little anxiety can help you decide to do something about [your situation], she says. "But beyond that, you just need to decide what you can act on and come up with a plan."
- Take Charge: "It's always best to face things head on," Alvord observes. "Deal with your fear and worry by having an action plan. Being proactive is one of the major factors in being resilient. Develop a sense of not being a victim by being able to make choices. We can't control every thing in life, but there are a lot of things we CAN control." Take stock of your financial situation, look at how you're being affected individually, and then prioritize your actions, she suggests.
- Control What You Can: Nancy Lossino, employee assistance program manager at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, recommends that you "Tweak as much as you possibly can" to improve your finances, cutting back on spending (including the amount you spend on kids' after-school activities and gas to drive them around) and being sure to pay your bills on time so you don't get trapped into high default interest rates. "Don't avoid and procrastinate until things spiral out of control," she adds. (To read Lossino's PowerPoint presentation about all of this, click on her name and scroll down to the link for "Managing Financial Stress.")
- Avoid Unhealthy Behaviors: Examine how you have typically handled stress, Alvord advises. "What has been your pattern in the past? Do you turn to unhealthy behaviors? Alcohol? Brooding? Worrying?" If so, see if you can break that pattern and take a more positive approach, she suggests.
- Recognize "Basic Immaturity": If you're feeling petulant or entitled to keep spending, you may be financially illiterate, Lossino says, or simply immature. If this is you, you need to grow up -- and get some professional advice about your finances.
- "Take a Deep Breath": "It's not pleasant," Lossino says, but you need to step back and figure out "how to be part of the solution." Take some time to identify your support system, whether it's your family, friends or colleagues at work, and draw on the strength they supply to get you through these rough times.
- Seek Help if You Need It: "Many people don't like to talk about things," Lossino says, but it's important to get professional psychological help if you find yourself thinking "desperate thoughts" or feeling depressed. "Be on the lookout," she suggests, "and get professional counseling so you can stop being afraid to open your mailbox" every day.
- Know You're Not Alone: Check out the results of this recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showing that money and the economy are leading sources of stress.
How are you faring during this financial rough patch? Care to share any tips of your own for keeping your cool while watching your 401K go down in flames?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
September 17, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Life's Big Questions
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