Surviving the Recession, Part 2: Anxiety, Harmful Behavior, and Paralysis

– Posted in: Anxiety
Artwork by Andy Warhol    





Artwork by Andy Warhol

The sustained economic tensions of the recession are taking a dire toll on Americans.

Stress and anxiety are now everyday demons threatening to overcome your life, rendering you helpless and hopeless.

In this climate, many Americans are finding that their stress and anxiety are growing to the point where they are more than annoyances, but real problems in and of themselves. We see more and more people self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. Others curl up in a ball of denial, hoping it will all just go away.

This series of 4 articles about surviving the recession offers an understanding of the situation that 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 details how stress and anxiety can tip you over into Anxiety Disorder or other mental illnesses, as well as leading to harmful behaviors. It covers these topics:

  • 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 two 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” is a list of proactive steps that you can take to regain control, not only of your financial situation, but your and your family’s lives. It will be published tomorrow.

Be sure to read yesterday’s installment, “Surviving the Recession, Part 1: What It’s Doing to Us.” It discusses 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

Economic stress and mental disorders

Stress and anxiety causing serious mental illnesses

The level of stress caused by the economy is taking a dreadful toll on many Americans. It is causing them to experience more serious mental illnesses such as Anxiety Disorders and depression. And it is causing some with mental disorders that had been under control to rise up again. Alan A. Axelson, a Pittsburgh psychiatrist, says that many former patients are returning to him having relapsed, needing more therapy and medications to cope with their stress and anxiety. He also finds that first-time patients need more care to overcome their problems.{{1}}

Sarah Bullard Steck, a Washington therapist who also directs the employee assistance program at the Commerce Department says:{{2}}

The economy and fear of what’s going to happen is having a huge effect. People are coming in more with severe anxiety or more marital strife, some domestic violence, some substance abuse.

Psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, the American Psychological Association’s executive director for professional practice, states that:{{3}}

With the deteriorating economy dominating the headlines, it’s easy to worry more about your finances than your health, but, stress over money and the economy is taking an emotional and physical toll on America, especially among women.

Many say they are handling their stress well. Yet, people report more physical and emotional symptoms. If Americans continue to experience these high levels of stress for prolonged periods of time, they are at risk for developing serious illnesses.

In a March, 2009 Washington Post-ABC News poll, 57 percent of those surveyed said the nation’s economic condition is a cause of stress in their lives. More than a quarter said they had “serious” anxiety. The percentage of stressed-out people was higher among those who said their finances had suffered “a great deal” from the recession. Among this group, 83 percent said they were stressed, with 55 percent reporting serious anxiety.{{4}}

Unfortunately, many do not seek the help of a mental health professional. Rather, they ask primary physicians for medication, not therapy referrals, because they fear that employers will consider them unstable or resent counseling during work hours, says Allen J. Dietrich, a family doctor in Lebanon, N.H. He says he has to broach the subject of emotional stress gently because many come in with physical complaints like stomach upset or headaches, which are symptoms of stress.{{5}}

Nancy Molitor, a psychologist in Wilmette, Illinois says that:{{6}}

I’ve never seen this level of anxiety and depression in 22 years of practice, The mental health fallout has been far worse than after 9/11.

Excessive worry may lead to Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Warning signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

We all have mild anxieties and stresses, and actually need them to function and survive. But if you find yourself worrying about the economy and your finances for hours each day, to the point where you have difficulty sleeping or concentrating on other tasks, you may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, in any given year. Women are twice as likely to be affected.{{7}} 

People with GAD experience persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about issues like money, health, family, or work for six months or longer. They know that their fears are irrational, but they don’t know how to stop the worry cycle, feeling it is beyond their control. 

Physical symptoms of GAD include fatigue, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, irritability, edginess, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal discomfort or diarrhea.

According to Sally Winston, PsyD, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland, some of her patients are also experiencing the following signs of excessive worry:{{8}}

  • Checking online finances every hour
  • Worrying about things that are not at risk, such as bank deposits that are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
  • Worrying about standing in food kitchen or unemployment lines
  • Watching TV for hours each day and hearing the same information over and over

In addition to GAD, chronic, untreated anxieties and stress can trigger or exacerbate other psychological or physical problems such as depression, substance abuse, gastrointestinal problems and coronary artery disease. So it is very important to address it seriously and as soon as you can.{{9}}

The good news is that even anxiety that feels out of control can be successfully treated with either short-term therapy, called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), medication or a combination of both.{{10}}

If you’re stressed out, anxious or depressed, avoid turning to harmful behavior

Harmful behaviors lead to future physical and emotional problems

The American Psychological Association (APA) cautions that, while the current economic climate may seem excessively difficult, relying on harmful behaviors to alleviate stress may contribute to physical and emotional health problems in the future. Dr. Nancy Molitor states that: {{11}}

It’s tempting to turn to bad habits, but stress and health are so strongly linked that it’s important for people to take care of themselves. Engaging in unhealthy behaviors usually makes things worse and then distracts you from making the necessary changes in your financial situation that could ultimately make life better.

And the harmful behaviors that people engage in are brought to the fore in the APA’s report, “Stress in America.” It found that:{{12}}

  • Almost half of Americans (48 percent) reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods to manage stress
  • One in four (39 percent) skipped a meal in the last month because of stress
  • Almost one-fifth of Americans (18 percent) report drinking alcohol to manage their stress 
  • One in six (16 percent) report smoking

The APA report found that women were more likely than men to report unhealthy behaviors to manage stress:{{13}}

  • Eating poorly (56 women versus 40 percent men)
  • Shopping (25 women versus 11 percent men)
  • Excessive napping (43 women versus 32 percent men)

Of course, “The worst response to feeling anxious is increased substance abuse, especially alcohol,” as Sally Winston says.{{14}} Self-medication with drugs and alcohol may alleviate cares and woes for the moment, but lead to even greater problems in the near future.

Paralyzing yourself: Denial and catastrophizing

Denial and catastrophizing prevent action

Events and circumstances in the current economic climate may seem to be completely out of your control. There is a real danger of panicking or freezing like a deer in the headlights. 

And there are two very real additional dangers that we can fall prey to when we are under the pressure of anxiety and stress: denial and catastrophizing. The problems of the day have many people caught between the opposite poles of these two perils. 

At the one pole is denial: doing nothing in the face of knowing that something must be done. Denial is a kind of paralysis that is easily ripped apart by a dose of reality. It’s a self-stunning strategy that doesn’t solve anything; rather it just puts off the day that the toll will be reckoned.{{15}}

At the other pole is catastrophizing: irrational thoughts that something is far worse than it actually is. Catastrophizing can take two forms. The first of these is making a catastrophe out of every situation. The truth is that not every situation is of the same magnitude as others. Things may be bad, but not everything is as bad as everything else. This kind of catastrophizing takes current situations and gives them a truly negative “spin.”{{16}}

The second kind of catastrophizing is closely linked to the first, but it is more mental and more future oriented. This kind of catastrophizing occurs when we look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong. We then create a kind of reality around those thoughts (e.g. “It’s bound to all go wrong for me…”). Because we believe something will go wrong, we make it go wrong.{{17}}

Falling prey to catastrophizing is like striking out in your mind before you even get to the plate. Both of these types of catastrophizing limit your ability to respond to the challenges and opportunities of your current economic situation. They can affect your entire outlook in life, and create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, disappointment and underachievement.

Both types of catastrophizing can lead you to self-pity, to an irrational, negative belief about the situation, and to a feeling of hopelessness about your future prospects. And both of these types will define whether you see the presence or absence of alternative possibilities, possibly paralyzing you from going further with efforts toward a clear-headed assessment of your economic status, as well as your goals in life.{{18}}

Don’t miss the other parts of the series!

Be sure to read parts 1, 3 and 4!

This is part 2 of the 4-part series, “Surviving the Recession.” The first part, “Surviving the Recession, Part 1: What It’s Doing to Us” lays out how the recession and its economic uncertainties is affecting us. It has these headings:

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

The third and fourth 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 regain control, not only of your financial situation, but your and your family’s lives.

What do you think?

Humans deny, panic, freeze and catastrophize

In the face of danger, it is our tendency as humans to panic, freeze, deny its existence, or let fear make it out to be much larger than it is. We run to alcohol and drugs to give us some relief from our fears. Yet we know all the while that each of these things will not help us in the long run, and that they just make things worse.

The first two installments in this series have been pretty grim — I thought twice about including them, but I couldn’t in good conscience withhold the results of my research from you. Fortunately, tomorrow’s article is very positive and full of helpful advice from a wide range of sources. Writing it has helped me gain a good perspective and attitude toward my own family’s finances, and helped to quell my wife’s and my stress about the economic situation.

  • Do you think your stress and anxiety are pushing you toward a mental disorder?
  • What do you think about the section on catastrophizing? Does it ring true?
  • Have you taken up any harmful behaviors due to the stress and anxiety of the recession?

Artwork by Andy Warhol, 1982. Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board. Edition 60.

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

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Related posts:


[[1]]Belluck, Pam. (2009, April 8). Recession Anxiety Seeps Into Everyday Lives. Retrieved April 8, 2009 from [[1]]

[[2]]Belluck, Pam. (2009, April 8)[[2]]

[[3]]Bethune, Sophie; Brownawell, Angel. (2008, October 7). APA Poll Finds Women Bear Brunt of Nation’s Stress, Financial Downturn. Retrieved April 13, 2009 from [[3]]

[[4]]Trejos, Nancy. (2009, March 1). Fear, Stress, Anxiety: A Global Recession’s Personal Economics. Retrieved April 13, 2009 from [[4]]

[[5]]Belluck, Pam. (2009, April 8)[[5]]

[[6]]Molitor, Nancy. (2009, February 3). Recession Anxiety. Retrieved April 10, 2009 from [[6]]

[[7]]Staff of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. (2009). How to Survive Tough Economic Times and Manage Your Anxiety. Retrieved March 25, 2009 from [[7]]

[[8]]Staff of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. (2009)[[8]]

[[9]]Ross, Jerilyn. (2008, October 28). Managing Anxiety During Tough Economic Times. Retrieved April 5, 2009 from [[9]]

[[10]]Ross, Jerilyn. (2008, October 28)[[10]]

[[11]]Molitor, Nancy; Staff of American Psychological Association. Economic Worries Tax Out Americans as April 15 nears. (2009, April) Retrieved April 10. 2009 from [[11]]

[[12]]Staff of the American Psychological Association. (2008, October 7). Stress in America. Retrieved April 18, 2009 from (pdf) [[12]]

[[13]]Staff of the American Psychological Association. (2008, October 7)[[13]]

[[14]]Staff of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. (2009)[[14]]

[[15]]Elliott, Charles H. (2009, March 13). Anxious About the Economy? Retrieved April 11, 2009 from [[15]]

[[16]]Grohol, John M. (2007, November 19). What is Catastrophizing? Retrieved April 20, 2009 from [[16]]

[[17]]Grohol, John M. (2007, November 19)[[17]]

[[18]]Grohol, John M. (2007, November 19)[[18]]

17 comments… add one
Stacey Derbinshire April 21, 2009, 11:46 pm

Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

Tracy April 22, 2009, 12:28 am

The recession hasn’t caused me any undo anxiety, but:

“What do you think about the section on catastrophizing? Does it ring true?”

In other areas of my life, at various times, catastrophizing has been a very weak point for me. I’ve become so worked up that it does become a self fulfilling prophecy, then felt so helpless that I felt paralyzed and unable to help myself. It’s a very difficult hole to climb out of, I managed with help from family and friends. One of the things I’m enjoying about life coaching is that we are working on these kinds of unproductive coping mechanisms.

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

Mike R April 23, 2009, 3:02 am

I’ve got to say that this and part 1 all ring very true for me.

I have been constantly ill with various low-level flu/sinusitis/colds and general fatigue since Christmas, even though the Doc has done blood tests and found nothing wrong (I’m more ill more often than my peers).

I’ve also somehow “ended up” smoking again, even though I really don’t want to.

And catastrophizing has often been a feature of my thinking for many years now.

Looking forward to part 3….!

Mike R’s last blog post..A New Work

Chris April 23, 2009, 3:10 pm

Boy, do I wish I had this information while growing up! Especially during college and the early years of my marriage. I can see how so many of the thought patterns I developed over the course of my life have exacerbated my tendency toward melancholy and worry.

One way I have started to address my latest bout with depression and anxiety is to write. But, not just about anything. I try to find the small joys around me, the funny moments, absurd moments, moments to treasure and write about those. The writing helps keep me focused on positive things and, in a strange, tangential way, helps me find solutions to the practical challenges my family are currently facing.

Mike, this blog of yours is an oasis, a place of wisdom and common sense.

Thank you, again, for what you do here!

Chris’s last blog post..Turd Monster in the House

Mike April 24, 2009, 9:22 pm

Hi, Stacy! Thanks for dropping by! Feel free to look around: explore the categories, click on some of the most popular articles, do a search. There’s lots here!

Mike April 24, 2009, 9:32 pm

Tracy, good to see you back. Sorry I haven’t been able to reply to you right away: This series was like a benevolent monster, gobbling up all my time and attention. Now that the series is finished, I’m playing catch-up with my replies.

Catastrophizing is one of the most common “sins” against the psyche that we perpetrate on ourselves. We cease to live in the present and roam around the future shrinking in horror at every shadow. But being common doesn’t mean it isn’t virulent, requiring some “strong medicine” to conquer. How fortunate you were to have people who could help you!

I am so interested in your life coaching with Tim Brownson. I eagerly await your posts about your sessions (Really. I’m not making that up!) Which reminds me — I still haven’t commented on your last post! I’ve read it, but didn’t have time or presence of mind to comment. Better get right over there and do it!

Mike April 24, 2009, 9:37 pm

Mike, thanks for your comment!

In my own life, I have found that a continuous low-level sickness is often the sign of unresolved issues trying to rise to the level of attention. For me, these are centered around bipolar disorder and my Anxiety Disorders.

Have you thought about seeing a mental health professional? They may be able to help you sort things out so that you get some relief.

Parts 3 and 4 are out now, and I do hope you enjoy them and find them useful. They were originally planned for only one article, but at 31 tips, I just had to split them up!

Mike April 24, 2009, 9:52 pm

Chris, I really appreciate your kind compliments!

Yes, I wish I knew when I was younger what I know now, too! I could have avoided so much pain and heartache, so many crazy-making people, so much… But that is dwelling in the past, which doesn’t do anybody any good except to learn from.

I’m glad that you have found some help here on the blog. If there are any subjects that you think others may be interested in, please let me know and I will consider putting them on my research list.

Your post about your son in the bathroom is hilarious! It reminds me so much of my own son when he was that age. In fact, he’s still like that, and he’s 28!

When I first was reading your post, I hadn’t gotten to the CommentLuv line that shows your last post. I was thinking that you really, really needed a blog for your writing. And there, you have one! Good for you!

Kim Woodbridge April 25, 2009, 11:26 pm

I am definitely more likely to use denial rather than catastrophizing. If I don’t think about it and worry about it than there isn’t a problem. Well, I used to be more like that. I try to take control of things now. When I was younger I tended to self-medicate.

Kim Woodbridge’s last blog post..My 5 Favorite Articles That I’ve Written This Year

Mike April 26, 2009, 5:31 pm

Welcome back, Kim!

Personally, I’m not given much to catastrophizing. Whether it’s nurture or nature, I just don’t get bent out of shape about things I can’t control, especially those things in the future. I get no extra credit for this: It’s just the way I was designed to be.

However, I am an expert at denial. I’ll just cover my eyes to a problem, hoping it will go away, which of course, it never does. I can’t tell you how many times a situation has gotten out of hand because I ignored it for too long. And it seems like I never learn. I’m in the middle of a situation now that I know full well needs my attention, but here I am writing blithely about it while the house burns down around me! Physician, heal thyself!

Karen Chaffee May 13, 2009, 11:58 pm

Hello! I found your blog via “Blogging without a Blog” and love it already. I have fought anxiety and depression my whole life, so now it is even more important to stay on top of it.

Thank you!


Barb Hartsook May 14, 2009, 10:15 am

I fight my own demons — and that’s what I think anxieties are. They only attack me in the dead of night, and I wake up terrified. So I get up. Get a drink of water and swallow a couple of passion flower capsules and walk or run-in-place until I relax and tire enough to go back to bed. I may read a while — anything to fight the thing off. I pray.

I refuse to see the worst, though it’s built into my temperament to do so. I was raised to look for possibilities, so catastrophizing isn’t an option — by determined choice. I choose to live in the present instead of the future, because NOW requires an action to create my THEN.

I believe what has been so often written in books on personal growth — what I see (look at, focus on, tell myself) is what I’ll get. (And that’s also Biblical: Phil 4:8-9)

I do fear our future somewhat — but I’m feisty enough to go down fighting if I go down at all.

Thanks for the series, Mike. Found you on Barbara Swafford’s blog.

Barb Hartsook’s last blog post..Why Does an Artist Paint? Or a Writer Write?

Mike May 14, 2009, 12:38 pm

Karen, thanks for dropping by, and thank you for the comment!

Please feel free to explore the site. Start with the “Most Popular” and the “Recent Posts” lists in the sidebar. Then check out the “Categories” tab at the top of the page. Specific topics can be found using the “search” facility in the sidebar. The “Reference & Info” list in the sidebar has longer background articles about the various Anxiety Disorders.

If you’re interested in a topic you don’t see covered, I would welcome your suggestions! Just email me using the “Contact” tab at the top of each page.

Mike May 14, 2009, 12:48 pm

Thank you, Barb, for your comment!

You are an extraordinarily resourceful person, and are doing all the right things to keep your demons at bay. Thank you for detailing some of the things you do; I’m sure other readers will be helped.

I think of my own mental disorders as demons, too, borrowing the image of a demon riding on my back from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Although many would disagree with me, I think it helps to anthropomorphize mental disorders, to “name” them, and thereby learn to control them.

We live in frightening times — and I don’t mean just the recession. There’s much to turn us into quivering lumps of fear in each day’s newspaper. But as you say, we can choose whether we will succumb to that fear, and we can choose where we will live our lives: in the past, the present, or the future. Living in the present is the only real choice we have to maintain a fulfilling, contented, and productive life!

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