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How to survive the financial crisis

The first years of the new century have been a challenge for the citizens of planet Earth. It began with the twin towers and the continuing threat of terrorism. Next came the awareness of global climate change. This has been quickly followed by news of global financial disaster. The stock market plummets and major businesses have to be propped up by governments. All this ongoing bad news provokes fear and concern. Someone asked me recently, “Are we heading towards the apocalypse?”

It’s only human that when faced with headlines such as “Crisis!” “Meltdown!” and “Collapse!” we respond with fear and anxiety. And, as we get reports from all over the world, not just nationally, this exponentially heightens the impact. It invites extreme responses. I have read articles advising people to stock up on non-perishable food and recommending that now might be a good time to buy a gun for protection! Those wacky religious types who walk around with signs saying “The end of the world is nigh” must be rubbing their hands in glee.

Our fear

Even though economics might seem like an objective, practical subject, it’s actually run by emotion. When people feel optimistic, we have a bull market. When fear is the driver, the bottom drops out of the market. And there is plenty of fear around at present. In our world, money equals security. If our personal finances are wobbly, we get anxious. So, if there’s a crack in the worldwide financial system, it’s cause for a global anxiety attack.

It’s a challenge to stay calm when faced with the barrage of negative media coverage. But this is exactly what is required if we are to ride out the financial “crisis” with our sanity intact. Fear does not engender clear thinking or wellbeing. In fact, some sources report recent increases in sleep disruption, stomach disorders and alcohol consumption in the population. All are results of anxiety.

The financial crisis triggers fear on many different levels. There are both individual and collective fears, conscious and unconscious fears. Collective fear is the combined effect of millions of individual anxieties. It creates a climate of unease within the whole of society. This then makes a deadly feedback loop. The individual taps into the collective fear and so feels more anxious. This, in turn, contributes to an increase in the general fear that the individual then taps into. And on it goes. To be free of fear, you have to step outside this loop. More on this later.

Conscious fear is readily apparent. We can identify it because we are aware of the anxiety and what is causing it. Other fears are more difficult to deal with because they remain unconscious. They exist below our level of everyday awareness. They are nevertheless quite potent, the more so for being unidentified.

The financial crisis has triggered three main fears at a conscious level. These are 1) fears for survival 2) fearing loss of identity and 3) fearing loss of some particular role in life.

Survival

Money troubles, in particular, go straight to our fear jugular. They trigger core survival issues. These issues are very basic. They include having enough food to eat and clothes to wear, a home to live in and health and hygiene needs looked after. Money gives us the means to manage these survival needs. When survival fears are triggered, people project into a future of “survival of the fittest” where there is a competition for limited resources, like some Mad Max scenario. Hence the panicked recommendations to get a firearm for personal protection.

What makes it worse for the ordinary person is that very few of us are financial experts. So we become even more afraid. How are we to navigate such unfamiliar territory? Nothing scares us more than the unknown. If something like the financial system spins out of control so that even experts don’t know what to do, we feel really nervous.

Identity

In our society, money helps our ego feel secure. The ego needs to have a solid sense of identity and a stable place in society. Much of this is gained through our work and money is used to rank the value of our work. If we lose our jobs or our money, our identity is at stake, a very uncomfortable situation. Hence the stories of people throwing themselves out of windows when the stock market crashed in the 1930s. If we cultivate an identity that is more than just our work-self, we are less susceptible to this fear.

Roles

Most parents take on the role of breadwinner for the family. This role includes the ability to support and protect the family. If jobs are lost and money dwindles, we feel inadequate to meet this requirement. This role anxiety can leak out and affect the whole family. Tempers fray, parents argue and children are negatively affected by the tense atmosphere.

Unconscious fear

The financial crisis triggers the more obvious survival fears, but there are also fears being triggered at an unconscious level. Fear can be quite pernicious when it is invisible. Once it’s out in the open it’s easier to manage. The truth is that life actually scares people. No one mentions it, but just below our awareness, humans are overwhelmed by issues of existence. What are we here for? Does life have any meaning? How can we navigate the chaos of existence, the vagaries of fate? Will there be an apocalypse? Do we need a saviour? Will the planet survive? How to cope with knowing we will die?

Life’s big questions can seem too much to deal with, so we put our heads down, stay busy with our daily lives and keep these things buried in our unconscious. We try to control the details of our lives so we can live with the illusion that everything is safe.

Often, people come to therapy and say they need help with a specific anxiety. They might be anxious about work performance or a relationship, for example. The degree of anxiety they feel, though, is out of proportion to the actual issue. This is because the surface worry actually masks deeper concerns. The concern about work acts as a conduit for other unconscious fears.

It’s like we have a collection of little selves inside, all with their specific worries. But we don’t listen to them; we just stay busy and preoccupied. So the little selves plot away underneath. They devise schemes whereby they choose an innocuous member to step up and get attention. So up steps the money-worry self. This one we listen to because it seems reasonable and relatively manageable. But once it has our attention, all the rest gleefully rub their hands, shouting, “Yippee, let’s make a run for it! Let’s all rush out while there’s an opening. This is our chance!” So we are swamped with lots of fear all under the guise of money worry. So while the financial situation may be cause for concern, it’s also a lightning rod for many other deeper issues that we may not be addressing.

Global unconscious fear

As a society, we unconsciously take the heat off the real worry by transferring it to something else. The global level of fear has been building for a long time. We have undergone a rapid rate of change for some decades and the global psyche has struggled to keep up. The level of harm humans can now cause has reached global proportions. This threat began with the risk of nuclear war and now concerns the health of the actual planet itself. If people were feeling secure, economies would recover more quickly. There is a crisis of confidence about the economic system, but this is also fuelled by deeper global anxieties.

Dealing with fear

Chronic fear is not good for the psyche or the body. It prevents us from remaining balanced and clear. Decisions made from a space of fear do not lead to best outcomes. They make us contract and close down our hearts. A business going bust is an external event; the fear we have as a result is something that happens inside us. The two do not have to be inextricably linked. We don’t necessarily have a say in the state of the economy, but we do have a say in how we manage our internal state of being. So, even though there are things going on externally, we don’t have to let them determine our emotional health.

Following are strategies ranging from the practical to the spiritual to combat the effects of fear.

Be practical

The first step is to face up to our own financial situation. There’s no point in being an ostrich. Avoiding difficulties just prolongs the agony. If we get up to date with our finances, we can take them in hand. We may have to cut down on expenses, but at least we will then be on the way to getting in the black again. Better this than a continued slide into further debt.

Stay present

Make sure you stay conscious when you hear financial news reports. Be alert and notice. What do you tell yourself as you hear the reports? Do they generate thoughts like: “Is my job/income going to be OK?”, “Will there be enough?”, “What if everything collapses?” and “How will I survive?” Catch these thoughts and don’t let them go under the radar where they can quietly erode your wellbeing.

We need to strike a balance between staying informed and being saturated with negativity. Only read or listen to reports if it’s really necessary. Don’t encourage friends to talk about doom-and-gloom scenarios. These conversations are contagious and just spread panic and unease. You won’t help things by getting frightened yourself — you will just add to the general atmosphere of fear and dread.

Stay connected

The risk with survival fears is that they make us contract and we cut off from others. I know of people who retreat, get their own bit of land and plan for their own survival. It’s a selfish, short-sighted strategy. We are all in this together. It will take our collective contribution and wisdom to pull us through, not an every-man-for-himself philosophy.

We need to look after each other. So don’t contract. Stay generous. I know someone who has little money and could easily have contracted but decided instead that when they spent money they would see it as a contribution to the greater good. What a refreshing attitude!

Anchor yourself

Fear takes us away from our own inner centre and makes us project into some imagined negative future. This is not a good place from which to make decisions. It is not an open, creative or passionate state of being. It will therefore lead to a constricted and limited life.

It’s healthier and more productive to stay focused on your own inner intuitive self. Follow this voice, not the collective voice of doom and dread. To do this, though, you will need to maintain some practice that keeps you in touch with an inner centre of stillness and peace. Walking, being in nature and meditation are ways you can unplug from the outer chaos to tune back into yourself. In times of global crisis, we need such things even more than ever.

Insulate yourself

Many people today have enough emotional intelligence to realise they are responsible for their own emotional states. I have even heard children say, “No one can make you feel anything. You do it to yourself.” (Oh, to have been so evolved at such a young age!) So we may be used to practising “energetic independence” where we can be with a negative person or a bully and not be influenced by their energy. Now we just have to practise this on a much bigger scale.

We have to insulate ourselves from global negativity. Use all the skills you may have developed in the past, such as creating boundaries, energy protection, grounding and tuning in to an inner source. Turn up your own frequency and turn down the world’s volume knob. Then you don’t have to get pulled into the global mood. As spiritual teachings say: “Be in the world but not of the world.”

Be honest with yourself

There are various strategies people use to manage financially difficult times. Some people will repeat affirmations such as, “I am rich and successful.” Others will philosophise with statements such as: “If you lost your job, then it wasn’t meant to be.” Still others will use an Eastern approach and try to convince themselves that, “I’m not attached to anything, anyway.”

It is better to own up to being attached and deal with the emotions that arise. Don’t let the spiritual self deny, avoid or repress the emotional content. This is just “cheating” and you don’t really process what is truly going on.

Face your fears

Don’t let the financial worries be a conduit for other anxieties you may not have confronted. So get clear … what are your real concerns? What might you be avoiding? Pull these things out from the back of your psyche’s wardrobe and start sorting them out.

Cultivate different sorts of wealth

Money is just a symbol of energy. Perhaps you don’t have a lot, but there are other ways to be rich. Look at the energy around you. Are you surrounded by a wealth of friends, creativity, support and enthusiasm? These things are an antidote to fear. Instead of obsessing over your share portfolio, start focusing on other things that add value to life.

Check your ethics

Keep your money clean. We complain about the way corporations treat human beings and the environment but then happily put our money into shares in such companies. Why invest in something that compromises your ethics? You can rest peacefully if you know you are not helping to fund greed, cruelty or aggression on the planet.

Gaining perspective

Difficult times can help us to remember what really counts in life. We can find simpler pleasures. We can appreciate what we already have.

Rebalance

We can treat the present economic situation as a time to rebalance both personally and globally. There has been a time of constant global expansion without regard for whether the planet can accommodate it or not. Our culture has blown out in terms of what we believe we should have or “deserve” to have. We have not taken enough responsibility to support this continued expansion. On an individual level, this means people take out loans they can’t afford. Corporately, it means business expands without regard for sustainability.

The present financial time can be treated as a natural balancing out. This doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I think back to my grandparents who were able to save money while living on the pension! We can use this as a time to reassess and adjust our aspirations. How much can we simplify and re-prioritise our needs while still staying generous, joyful and abundant?

Surrender

We are all part of the human endeavour, so we are not immune to what happens in the world. The need to be immune makes people try to control every variable. It keeps them awake at night. Instead, it’s time to surrender. Once you have done all you can to protect yourself financially, the rest is up to fate/the universe/the gods. You can’t control whether the global market will get back on its feet.

This requires us to cultivate a faith in life so that whatever happens, at a deeper spiritual level it is all still OK. Life might be difficult and painful at times, but it will be all right. This doesn’t mean you mightn’t lose anything. It means that even when you do lose something, life is still OK. It means you have to grieve and get on the best you can, anyway.

Trust that your soul is working its way through life as it needs to. Trust that your spirit moves through the world with its eye on a bigger picture. When we flounder and don’t understand, then it’s time to trust that there is a “peace that passes all understanding”.

Signs your finances need attention

  1. You are regularly able to meet only the minimum due on credit cards.
  2. You are afraid when you open mail in case it’s a bill or final payment notice.
  3. You avoid thinking or talking about your financial state.
  4. You juggle credit cards using one to pay off another.
  5. You are consistently late paying bills.
  6. You often experience irritability, anxiety, guilt or lethargy.
  7. You have begun to use credit cards to buy basic needs such as food.

Hints for regaining financial health

  1. Stop shopping!
  2. Make a budget and stick to it.
  3. Have the more conservative partner manage the finances.
  4. Automatically deduct even small amounts regularly into a savings account.
  5. Rearrange/consolidate your accounts/loans.
  6. Have a secondary income (casual work/garage sale) for a bit of extra cash.
  7. Get outside advice.
  8. Talk to different banks to see what options are available to restructure your finances.
  9. Have “rainy day” savings as a financial cushion.
  10. Minimise discretionary spending.

    Cynthia Hickman is a psychologist working in private practice in Melbourne, Australia. T: 0417 103 018 W: www.cynthiahickman.net

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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