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Surviving the Recession, Part 1: What It’s Doing to Us

by Mike on April 20, 2009 · 10 comments

Artwork by Andy Warhol

Artwork by Andy Warhol

With the nation’s housing market in a ditch, the stock market in freefall, food prices rising, and government bailouts making the news almost every day, it’s no surprise that so many people are feeling anxious and stressed about the economy and their financial futures.

Anxiety and mild stress are a normal reactions to these events. It’s your body’s way of telling you to stay alert and work harder to protect your finances and your family’s future.

But with the nation in a recession, more Americans are feeling panicky about their future, leading to a remarkable increase in stress about their finances and job.

More than that, local and national mental health experts say that the loss of jobs, homes and retirement savings has triggered an increase in the number of people with symptoms related to toxic stress, Anxiety, or depression, such as changes in sleeping and eating patterns, headaches, and nervousness.

This series of 4 articles about surviving the recession offers an understanding about the situation so many of us find ourselves in, as well as positive suggestions to help you regain control of your life and finances. Today’s installment covers what the recession is doing to us, and has the following sections:

  • How are people handling the recession?
  • Women in particular are stressed by the economy
  • What the recession and economic worry are doing to us

Part 2, “Surviving the Recession, Part 2: Anxiety, Harmful Behavior, and Paralysis” details how stress can tip you over into Anxiety or other mental disorders, and can lead to harmful behaviors. It will have these sections:

  • Economic stress and mental disorders
  • Excessive worry may lead to Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • If you’re stressed out, anxious or depressed, avoid turning to harmful behaviors
  • Paralyzing yourself: Denial and catastrophizing

The final 2 installments, “Surviving the Recession, Part 3: 15 Things You Can Do to Regain Control,” and  “Surviving the Recession, Part 4: 16 More Things You Can Do to Regain Control” are lists of proactive steps that you can take to take back control, not only of your financial situation, but your and your family’s life.

How are people handling the recession?

Money and the economy are top sources of stress

Not very well. The American Psychological Association (APA) completed a poll in late 2008 called “Stress in America.” It reported that for 81 percent of Americans, money is the top source of stress. The economy is only slightly behind money as a stressor at 80 percent, up from 66 percent in April, 2008.{{1}} {{2}} {{3}}

Other stressors reported by the APA affected by the declining economy are considered significant sources of stress for two-thirds of Americans:{{4}}

  • Work (67 percent)
  • Health problems affecting the family (67 percent) 
  • Housing costs (62 percent). 
  • Job stability (56 percent)
  • Providing for the family’s basic needs (49 percent)

A recent poll by the Associated Press (AP) shows that perceptions of Americans about the quality of their lives is dropping dramatically. In September, 2008, 70 percent said they were personally happy. This new poll showed only 59 percent called themselves happy. More recent polls have shown this percentage to have fallen even more.{{5}}

The AP poll also shows how financial worries have permeated all corners of society, with some hit harder than others:{{6}}

  • While about one-third overall worry about financing a child’s college education, 6 in 10 people under age 45 are anxious about it.
  • 53 percent worry they will have to work longer because their retirement savings have dwindled, and 66 percent of people in their 40’s feel that way.
  • One-third worry about losing their job, but nearly half in their 30s and 40s do.
  • 46 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks worry about making mortgage and credit card payments.
  • 66 percent overall are concerned about facing major medical bills, including 78 percent of unmarried women.
  • Nearly 8 in 10 college graduates worry that the value of their stocks and retirement investments is falling.

While a recent New York Times/CBS News poll found fewer people saying the economy had worsened since late 2008, most did not think it was improving. People overwhelmingly thought the recession would last another year or more, and 70 percent were concerned that a household member would be jobless.{{7}}

Women in particular are stressed by the economy

Women are bearing the brunt of financial stress

Women are bearing the brunt of financial stress, according to data from the American Psychological Association’s newly released 2008 “Stress in America” survey.{{8}} According to the APA, women are most likely to report stress related to the economic climate. Compared with men, more women say they are stressed about: {{9}}

  • Money (83 percent women vs. 78 percent men)
  • The economy (84 percent women vs. 75 percent men)
  • Job stability (57 percent women vs. 55 percent men)
  • Housing costs (66 percent women vs. 58 percent men)
  • Health problems affecting their families (70 percent women vs. 63 percent men)

Women of the Boomer generation (aged 44 to 62) and elders (aged 63+) are most likely to report the economy as a significant stressor, while women in general rank financial worries above personal health.{{10}}

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) conducted a poll in mid-2008 that reported that women are significantly more pessimistic than are men in their attitudes about the current state of affairs in America — both on a societal level and in terms of trends in their own lives:{{11}} 

  • 92 percent of women feel that the nation overall is experiencing challenging or difficult times
  • 60 percent of women characterize their current personal situation as challenging or difficult

The NWLC poll reports that women are more likely than are men to feel they are falling behind economically, and women are much more likely than are men to be worried and concerned about their economic prospects for the future.  Other results from the NWLC poll show that:{{12}}

  • 59 percent of women, as compared with 46 percent of men, look ahead to the next five years and say they are more worried and concerned about being able to achieve their economic and financial goals than they are hopeful and confident.  
  • Only 6 percent of women say that their income is growing faster than the cost of living.  
  • 60 percent of women say that their income is actually falling behind the cost of living.
  • Only 33 percent of women say their income is keeping pace with the cost of living.
  • Lower-income women (75 percent falling behind), women with a high school degree or less education (68 percent), and African-American women (70 percent) feel particularly vulnerable. 

Other surveys, such as one by the Rockefeller Foundation with an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, reiterate the same message. As Barbara Gault, vice president and director of research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, says:{{13}}

As our economy gets worse, women are going to feel the pain the most. We found striking gender differences in economic anxiety and insecurity, with women much more likely than men to feel economically insecure. And, not surprisingly, perhaps this insecurity is even more pronounced among women of color.

What the recession and economic worry are doing to us

Economic stress causes physical and emotional symptoms

This is a time of increasing stress for everybody. The APA survey of late 2008 reported that many more people reported physical and emotional symptoms due to stress than they did in their 2007 survey. More people report fatigue (53 percent compared to 51 percent in 2007), feelings of irritability or anger (60 percent compared to 50 percent in 2007) and lying awake at night (52 percent compared to 48 percent in 2007) as a result of stress.{{14}} 

Except for the oldest Americans, none of us has lived through anything like the current recession. Many of us are not spending money, but spending more is tied tightly to helping the economy recover. Charles McMillion, chief economist at MBG Information Services, says:{{15}}

It is a vicious cycle, and people are under remarkable stress. There are a lot of people that are severely affected by this and have never had to deal with it before and don’t know where to turn because the country hasn’t dealt with it.

Just look at what is happening:

  • The National Sleep Foundation said 27 percent of people surveyed in late 2008 had sleeplessness because of economic anxiety. Many seeking help are fearful, but not actually incurring economic difficulty, said Joseph Ojile, founder of Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis, where patients increased 25 percent since October, 2008.{{16}}
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline calls jumped to 50,158 in January 2009, from 39,465 a month in January 2008, and economic stress more frequently “played a central role,” said Richard McKeon, the group’s federal project officer.{{Belluck}} The total number of calls increased from 412,000 in 2007 to 568,000 in 2008.{{17}}
  • In a November-December, 2008 study by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 54 percent of participating hotline callers said their household’s financial situation had changed in the past year.{{18}}
  • At ComPsych, the nation’s largest employee assistance mental health program, the demand for therapists surged 40 percent in the last half of 2008.{{19}}
  • Daniel A. Cohen, a Manhattan psychiatrist, said he saw “more families in crisis,” with children experiencing “increased signs of anxiety and depression” and more nightmares and acting out.{{20}}
  • The Treasury, Labor and other departments started a Web site for people experiencing stress. {{21}}
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is training counselors who usually assist people devastated by tornadoes and floods to now help people with what they “are going through with the economy,” said Dr. McKeon, an agency adviser.{{22}}

Don’t miss the other parts of the series!

Important information in parts 2, 3 & 4!

Tomorrow’s installment, Part 2, “Surviving the Recession, Part 2: Anxiety, Harmful Behavior, and Paralysis” details how stress can tip you over into Anxiety or other mental disorders, and can lead to harmful behaviors. It has these sections:

  • Economic stress and mental disorders
  • Excessive worry may lead to Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • If you’re stressed out, anxious or depressed, avoid turning to harmful behaviors
  • Paralyzing yourself: Denial and catastrophizing

The final 2 installments, “Surviving the Recession, Part 3: 15 Things You Can Do to Regain Control,” and “Surviving the Recession, Part 4: 16 More Things You Can Do to Regain Control” are lists of proactive steps that you can take to take back control, not only of your financial situation, but your and your family’s life.

What do you think?

My family is deeply affected by the recession

The recession has hit my family pretty hard. First, my wife’s overtime was cut out, which amounted to one-third of her pay. Now she is waiting to find out if her job will be eliminated completely in May. Our modest retirement savings are down about 50 percent.

We’ve tried to simplify our lives without affecting our quality of life, but it’s been hard. I wrote a guest post on the Time Goes By blog entitled “Getting Rid of the Junk” about our struggle to simplify, if you’re interested.

This first installment of the three-part series is not very cheerful. If that were all there was to it, it would be time for all of us to cover our heads with ashes, wear burlap, and moan with deep despair. Unfortunately, tomorrow’s offering won’t lift the spirits much, either. It’s about stress and what it can do to us. However, part 3 is entirely positive, with many proactive tips to help you weather the current economic storm.

But the questions today are gloomy in keeping with today’s post:

  • What is your take on the economy and the stress that it causes?
  • Have you, loved ones, or friends been among the victims of the recession?
  • How are you handling economic stress?

Artwork by Andy Warhol 1982, Unique screenprint on Lenox Museum Board, Edition 60

As always, your comments are welcome!

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©2009 Anxiety, Panic & Health. All rights reserved.

Related posts:

%RELATEDPOSTS%

[[1]]Staff of the American Psychological Association. (2008, October 7). Stress in America. Retrieved April 18, 2009 from (pdf) http://apahelpcenter.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=pageC&item=46 [[1]]

[[2]]Molitor, Nancy; Staff of American Psychological Association. Economic Worries Tax Out Americans as April 15 nears. (2009, April) Retrieved April 10. 2009 from http://www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/article.php?id=174 [[2]]

[[3]]Molitor, Nancy; Staff of American Psychological Association. (2008, December). Managing Your Stress in Tough Economic Times. Retrieved April 10, 2009 from http://www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/article.php?id=171 [[3]]

[[4]]Staff of the American Psychological Association. (2008, October 7). Stress in America. Retrieved April 18, 2009 from (pdf) http://apahelpcenter.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=pageC&item=46, figure 1[[4]]

[[5]]Staff of the Associated Press. (2008, October 20). Poll: Public anxiety on economy intensifies. Retrieved April 10, 2009 from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27282845/ [[5]]

[[6]]Staff of the Associated Press. (2008, October 20).[[6]]

[[7]]Belluck, Pam. (2009, April 8). Recession Anxiety Seeps Into Everyday Lives. Retrieved April 8, 2009 from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/09/health/09stress.html?_r=1&ref=us [[7]]

[[8]]Bethune, Sophie; Brownawell, Angel. (2008, October 7). APA Poll Finds Women Bear Brunt of Nation’s Stress, Financial Downturn. Retrieved April 13, 2009 from http://www.apa.org/releases/women-stress1008.html [[8]]

[[9]]Staff of the American Psychological Association. (2008, October 7)[[9]]

[[10]]Staff of the American Psychological Association. (2008, October 7)[[10]]

[[11]]Staff of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. for the National Women’s Law Center. (2008, August 5). Poll Findings: Understanding What Women Want in 2008. Retrieved April 5, 2009 from (pdf) http://www.nwlc.org/pdf/2008poll_whatwomenwantmemo.pdf [[11]]

[[12]]Staff of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. for the National Women’s Law Center. (2008, August 5)[[12]]

[[13]]Staff of Reuters. (2008, May 8). U.S. economic anxiety hits women harder: study. Retrieved April 10, 2009 from http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0842366820080508 [[13]]

[[14]]Bethune, Sophie; Brownawell, Angel. (2008, October 7)[[14]]

[[15]]Trejos, Nancy. (2009, March 1). Fear, Stress, Anxiety: A Global Recession’s Personal Economics. Retrieved April 13, 2009 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/28/AR2009022800150.html [[15]]

[[16]]Belluck, Pam. (2009, April 8)[[16]]

[[17]]Trejos, Nancy. (2009, March 1)[[17]]

[[18]]Trejos, Nancy. (2009, March 1)[[18]]

[[19]]Molitor, Nancy. (2009, February 3). Recession Anxiety. Retrieved April 10, 2009 from http://blog.syracuse.com/opinion/2009/02/recession_anxiety.html [[19]]

[[20]]Belluck, Pam. (2009, April 8)[[20]]

[[21]]Belluck, Pam. (2009, April 8)[[21]]

[[22]]Belluck, Pam. (2009, April 8)[[22]]

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