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

by Mike on April 20, 2009 · 10 comments

warhol quadrant sm Surviving the Recession, Part 1: What Its Doing to Us

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]]

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara Swafford
Twitter:
April 21, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Hi Mike,

What an awesome article. I can see how many would become stressed and/or depressed with the economy the way it is. In our line of work (construction) we saw a sudden downturn which was scary. Fortunately it’s starting to pick back up, so I pray we’re out of the woods (however I’m not truly confident…yet).

One thing that was affecting me negatively was watching the news. The doom and gloom was eating away at my positive attitude so I became proactive and now limit “news” watching time. That has helped a lot.

Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..About Me – The Most Important Page On Our Blog

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Kim Woodbridge
Twitter:
April 21, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I know that worry can be hard to control and that is stronger in some of us than in others but I wish we could learn that worry doesn’t change anything. I can worry about paying my bills or think up new ways to earn some extra money. I know it isn’t that clear cut for everyone because of family responsibilities, age and health issues, etc but the worry still won’t change anything.

People ask me if I’m worried about the economy and yes, the economy concerns me and has affected me but I have no control over it so I’m not going to spend much time worrying about it.

It’s a shame that there are so many people are suffering because of real economic issues and ones that they are concerned about. I guess I do worry – but more about others than myself.

Kim Woodbridge’s last blog post..(Anti) Social Personal Developments

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Mike April 21, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Thanks, Barbara, for your comment!

I’m glad your business is picking up. It seems like things are bit by tiny bit getting better. We’re looking to refinance our mortgage, and the banks are lending, just with very stringent rules.

Watching the news — or in my case, reading the news obsessively — can lead to real stress. Limiting your viewing was a wise step. Now, if I could only take that advice myself!

Part 3 of the series has positive steps you can take to relieve some of the stress and anxiety of the recession. Number 1 on the list is to limit your TV news watching!

Reply

Mike April 21, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Kim, thank you for your comment!

Worry, I’ve read many times, is 95% about what won’t happen, and 5% about things that are out of your control. Worry won’t solve anything ever, but that doesn’t stop some people (many people?) from obsessively worrying. The problem is that such worry only leads to anxieties, which can lead to real Anxiety Disorders.

Part 2 of the series, to be posted today, deals with worry and the Anxiety Disorders, especially Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

The crazy (!) thing is that many people think that if you’re not worrying, you aren’t sufficiently concerned or don’t feel the urgency of the situation. I had major conflicts in a company I worked for about this very issue. I was greatly concerned, but I chose to be proactive rather than sitting around in a worry-party. They didn’t get the point. I quit after only a year with them due to this and other issues.

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Jane O. April 21, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Great post Mike,
In my case, it’s my single 29 year old daughter that I worry about. She is a college grad, had a great job, but fell into the debt trap. She bought a townhouse…with a good mortgage…not a subprime. But, she has significant credit card debt and just lost her job. She does have 10 weeks severance and some Cobra assistance. But, I so worry that she may never bounce back and will lose her home. My instinct is to jump in and rescue her…pay her bills and mortgage pymts. But, my husband is not at all willing to do that. And he’s right. She will learn some hard lessons, but I guess she needs to.
My husband just retired in January, and I still work part time. We have pensions and some investments…so we’re okay. Luckier than most. I think Suze Orman had some good advice when she said to stop thinking about what you “used” to have and be grateful for what you have now. Don’t constantly look back at what might have been. Move on and make the most of what you have. After all, wealth is relative. There’s always someone else in worse shape.

Reply

Mike April 21, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Thank you, Jane, for the compliments and your comment!

We’ve faced a similar problem with our 28-year-old son. And we made the same decision as you have. At some point you just have to untie the apron strings. After all, we still have a 20-year-old at home and in college. She deserves the same opportunities we gave him, and we can’t do that if we continue to subsidize him.

Suze Orman has a good point, and you do, too. We sometimes (often?) forget how fortunate we are, and how there are people swimming rivers and climbing over fences just to enjoy living in our country!

Reply

Tracy
Twitter:
April 22, 2009 at 12:20 am

Hi Mike, great article! I am like Barbara, watching too much news or reading too many articles just makes gives me this generalized feeling of gloom and doom so I limit it. I’m not unaware of what is going on, but no need to submerse myself in it. I have been more frugal lately, but I think that’s more to do with buying a house last summer and being a bit house poor.

“The crazy (!) thing is that many people think that if you’re not worrying, you aren’t sufficiently concerned or don’t feel the urgency of the situation.”

You know, I also see this a lot with people wanting to read every horror story about child abuse and molestation. I understand the instinct but it seems like immersing yourself in it and seeking it out leads to a distorted view of the world. I think I can care and do what I can to help without drowning myself in it.

Tracy’s last blog post..My values are what motivate me

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Mike April 25, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Hi, Tracy! Thanks for the comment!

I can get to be a real news hound, in particular reading several newspapers online. I find when I’m most obsessed, my worry and angst levels peak and my day (and my mind) plunges. I really have to discipline myself to maintain equilibrium between knowing what’s going on and becoming bogged down in the minutia of side-stories and editorials. As I advise in Surviving the Recession, Part 3: 15 Things You Can Do to Regain Control, I just have to turn off the news in all its media forms from time to time just to stay sane — or as sane as I can get!

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