By: Manda Turetsky, M.S., MBA
During times of recession and economic downturn, individuals and families often experience heightened symptoms of stress – either from personally experiencing the effects of the crisis, or through fear that one’s own home, job or family will be the economy’s next victim. Children and adults alike experience this stress, though they express it in vastly different ways.
For adults, this might comprise common symptoms of stress: sleepless nights, frequent digestive ailments, unexplained weight gain or loss, inability to enjoy regular activities, anxiety or panic attacks, etc. It may also include symptoms specific to the financial issue such as hyper-focusing (the inability to get money problems off your mind), avoidance behaviors (like letting bills pile up unopened), self-destructive denial (excessive spending despite limitations).
In relationships, financial stress can translate to increased fighting between partners – especially about money, controlling behaviors, criticism of the other partner’s spending habits or financial world view, or a breakdown in communication about household finances.
For children, anxiety symptoms may be more difficult to pinpoint because children are still developing the verbal and cognitive skills needed for clear expression of feelings. Because kids rarely talk directly about their specific concerns, parents sometimes assume that the family’s financial situation is not impacting them. More often than not, however, kids pick up on the stressed-out feelings their parents are experiencing and internalize those feelings. Children may express worry by asking more questions than usual about money, or expressing fears about the status of parents’ jobs or the family’s home.
Kids who are experiencing the effects of family financial strain may also show their stress indirectly. This could include trouble eating or sleeping, acting out at school or home, and hoarding behaviors (saving or hiding food or money). Kids who are stressed might also seem to regress – to return to behaviors from a younger age – or to have trouble controlling bladder or bowels. [Always consult a physician to rule out medical causes for this type of physical issue].
Keep in mind that during difficult economic times, adults and children alike feel not only our own stress, but the stress of those around us. The hardships of others and the discouraging financial news in the media can pile up to have a cumulative stressful effect – making it difficult to pinpoint the exact source of the stressful feelings.
If you or your family members are experiencing economic stress, here are 10 basic strategies for reducing that stress and its effects:
- Don’t panic. Even the hardest financial predicaments have a solution – even if it seems very far away. You’ve faced challenges before; remind yourself that you’ll survive this one, too.
- Assess the situation. Take a look at your financial picture and decide if you need to make major or minor changes to improve the budget.
- Set goals. Prioritize short- and long-term goals together, and decide how much of current resources you need to contribute to each goal. Get help from a financial advisor if this task seems overwhelming.
- Work together. Couples should collaborate to establish priorities and a budget – even if one person is more financially savvy or more involved with the day-to-day budget.
- Share power. Children feel less anxious when they have power in a situation; allowing kids to make age-appropriate choices and contributions to the household can help reduce stress.
- Talk about it. Regular, planned communication between all family members helps to allay stress by creating structure and predictability. Family meetings or regular budget check-ups are great ways to communicate regularly.
- Turn off the news. It isn’t productive to worry about things beyond your control, so if all the bad news about the economy is causing you anxiety, tune it out for a while. There is only so much each individual can do to improve the state of the overall economy. Do what you can to improve your own situation, and move on.
- Think positive. Thoughts are powerful influences on the way we think and feel; keeping your thoughts positive and optimistic can help reduce the impact of stress on the body and mind.
- Don’t forget about the rest of your life. There are hundreds of things that make a life rich, and most of them are not related to money. Focus on things like togetherness, creativity, relaxation, and spirituality to take some of the power out of the economic situation.
- Get help if you need it. If you or someone you love is feeling overwhelmed by the economic crisis or is having difficulty getting anxious feelings under control, consider making an appointment with one of our talented clinicians for a stress and anxiety evaluation.