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These are unprecedented times. With the breakdown of traditional financial institutions, the wildly fluctuating stock market and the 700 million dollar government bailout, Americans are confused about how to respond. Some are in denial, not prepared to grasp the problems and potential consequences. Others are angry at what they see as awarding recklessness on Wall Street. Still others are in a panic about the gloomy economic forecast. These are all common emotional reactions to loss. And for Sandwiched Boomers, many of whom are financially responsible for their growing children and aging parents, they're scared as they watch their dreams of a comfortable retirement disappear.
Medical care companies report that mental heath calls due to financial pressure have increased over 100% in the past several months. Early signs of distress - sadness, irritability, lack of motivation and changes in sleeping or eating patterns - can be subtle and easily missed in a busy family. However, as the economic turmoil continues, there can be a snowball effect. So, if you or any family member is having emotional symptoms, add some of the following healthy strategies to your bag of tricks:
1. Take a pulse of the situation, without either putting your head in the sand or overreacting. Pay attention to what's going on around you. Yet avoid getting caught up in a pessimistic mindset, which can result in higher levels of anxiety and poor decision making. Try to remain calm and stay focused on what you need to do.
2. Recognize how you deal with tension related to money. Avoid unhealthy activities like smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating. Financial pressure can bring about more conflict and arguments in relationships. If any of these behaviors are causing problems for you, find healthier approaches to deal with your anxiety and stress.
3. Stay proactive by identifying your financial stressors and making a plan. Write down specific means by which you and your family can reduce expenses or manage your money more efficiently. Although putting it down on paper can be worrisome in the short term, committing to a concrete plan will gradually reduce your stress.
4. Times like this, while difficult, can offer opportunities for needed change. Try taking a walk - it's an inexpensive way to get exercise and more fit. Having dinner at home will not only save money, but bring your family closer together. Through low-cost resources in your community, take a course or learn a new skill that can lead to a better job. The key is to use this time to think outside the box - and to consider new ways of managing your life.
5. Get professional support. Credit counseling and financial planning can teach you how to take control of your money situation. If you continue to feel frustrated, scared or overwhelmed, talk with a professional. A therapist or coach can help you understand the feelings behind your financial worries and show you adaptive techniques to manage your emotions.
Yes, retirement funds are in jeopardy. And Sandwiched Boomers are wondering how they will pay college tuition for their children, help their parents on a fixed income and ever be able to retire. But while you can't always control what happens, you can control how you deal with it. Your response to the financial crisis depends largely on your interpretation. The sense you make of it all is called 'reframing.' And here you do have a choice – either to imagine that circumstances will never change or that you can find a silver lining within the dark clouds.
So, for example, if you're concerned about the impact on your family, remind yourself that families can grow stronger when they weather challenges together. By acknowledging the feelings and thoughts you have, and gently redirecting your attention to the positive, you can decrease the stress you are experiencing. And when you're not feeling so defeated, you will make choices that will better maximize the opportunities ahead.
© Her Mentor Center. 2008
About the Authors
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. & Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are co-founders of Her Mentor Centera website for midlife women and Nourishing Relationships a Blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about Baby Boomers' family relationships and publish a free newsletter, Stepping Stones, through their website. As psychotherapists, they have over 40 years of collective private practice experience.
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