Economic Crisis Takes Toll on Emotional Health

WEDNESDAY Oct. 8, 2008 -- Wall Street's roller coaster ride is costing Americans more than money: It's costing them sleepless nights and a heap of emotional distress, experts say.

"People are anxious, and they are more anxious if they are nearer retirement age and have their 401k in the stock market and money in the banks," said Linda Rosenberg, president of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, in Washington, D.C. "When people get anxious . . . it begins to affect the whole family. There are marital fights over 'What do we do now?' Kids get involved when parents are fighting and have their own emotional upset."

In some ways, the current upset may hit closer to home than 9/11, affecting larger numbers of people, added Rosenberg, who reported that mental health centers are getting more calls.

"This economic crisis has been going on for months and months and months," said Josh Klapow, an associate professor of health-care organization and policy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "If you take the gas prices, and you couple that with home foreclosures, and you couple that with major lending agencies and investment banks going under and retail prices going up, and you couple that with a stock market that crashes plus a bailout followed by a stock market crash, you get anxiety compounding anxiety."

The uncertainty of even top leaders not knowing when the situation is going to be fixed, not to mention the lack of control many people feel, is only aggravating the matter.

Wall Street workers are probably feeling the pain even more.

"I'm seeing a lot of sleep issues, people with gastrointestinal illness and chronic stomach issues, and people who are sicker in terms of colds and coughs and immune issues," said Kenneth Ruge, a staff minister and counselor at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City who also has many clients on Wall Street. "I'm seeing more Xanax and Ambien for sleep aids and anxiety control. The levels of alcohol consumption, I think, are up somewhat among some of my clients."

A recently released poll found that Americans are indeed more stressed than they were in the spring.

But there may be a silver lining in this cloudy sky. Experts have the following advice to help cope and lessen anxiety:

  • Frank Farley, a professor of psychological studies in education at Temple University, said the four "C's" can help people cope. Stay calm. "Don't panic. People who panic do very dangerous things in their life," Farley advised. "Some amount of anxiety is healthy, because it motivates you to do things, but too much anxiety can interfere with your ability to think straight. Be cautious and careful and have confidence. "We have gone through financial crises and recessions, and we have always come out of them," Farley said. "Have confidence that we will again. It's that confidence multiplied 300 million times that will get us out of this. This whole meltdown to a large and significant degree is fueled by psychology."
  • Take media reports with a hefty dose of salt. "I sure wish some of the pundits would shut up," Farley said. "We have the specter of the Great Depression, and it fuels fear and panic. This nation has survived incredible things." Ruge reported that many clients are going on a "media fast," refusing to read or watch news reports and refraining from checking the stock market averages except occasionally.
  • Do something. "Translate your worries into action," Klapow recommended. "Any small action that will control some of your finances will be very productive for reducing anxiety. Focus on what you can do."
  • Maintain a life balance. "If you become consumed with all of the financial information coming out, you will drive yourself physically and emotionally into the ground," Klapow said. "It's important to eat right, engage in pleasurable activities, and strike a balance between attention paid to the financial crisis and attention paid to your well-being."
  • Take stock of your life. "It's time to reassess how you handle money and how you handle your life," Farley said. "If you get laid off or have a reduction in hours, maybe this is a time to consider, are you happy in this line of work anyway?" Farley said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on coping with stress.

Posted: October 2008


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