Staying Upbeat in a Down Economy


When the economy spirals out of control, so can our emotions.

There are two major types of financial stressors, according to Barbara Becker Holstein, EdD., aka Dr. Barbara, a practicing psychologist and author of The Truth: I’m a Girl, I’m Smart and I Know Everything.

With the first type, the worst has already happened to you. The second is if nothing’s really happened but you’re worried about the “What if.”

Here's how to stay upbeat in either situation:

If The Worst Has Happened
Real anxiety about events that have impacted your life directly—you lost your job, your net worth dropped by half or your salary got slashed in lieu of layoffs, for example—can take a toll on mental, emotional and physical health. Here are three strategies for keeping your mood high, when bad luck strikes:

1. Do a self-check.
When your financial state hits rock bottom, so can your self-esteem, outlook and mood, says Holstein. This is the ideal time to evaluate your skills set, as well as potential areas of interest or skill you can leverage. Not only will this help you determine your next steps—new job, new industry, more education—but it will remind you that losing your job isn’t a measure of your self-worth, it’s just a bump in the road.

2. Develop an action plan. Job or wealth loss is so traumatic, people often do nothing to change the situation. “The event is so unbelievable and difficult to handle that people go into a stalemate, which is the opposite of what they need to do,” Holstein says. Staying active will keep you focused on growth, solutions and hope, so you see a happier future, and know how to get it. Schedule an appointment with financial experts to protect what you have, identify what skills you can leverage for a job “in the meantime” while re-inventing yourself or determine how to downsize your life. Can you do with only one car, for example? Are the clothes shoved in the back of your closet worthy of resale? You’ll have less time to worry as you watch positive action unfold.

3. Stay connected. A salary cut, for instance, can make you feel embarrassed, ashamed and depressed, which in turn triggers a desire to avoid friends and loved ones. “It’s important to know you’re not alone,” Holstein says. “Don’t isolate yourself. The more you surround yourself with people who sympathize and support you, the better you’ll feel.” Call on friends, join a community group, talk to a financial advisor, or volunteer. Reaching out will take your mind off worries and allow you to see an uplifting solution.

If Nothing's Happened Yet
When the entire country is talking about financial ruin, it’s normal to imagine what could happen to you—you may get downsized, lose your house or have trouble surviving if turns into a depression—even if it’s unlikely. “When stress is vibrational, you feel the same level as anxiety as everyone else, as well as guilt or discomfort because everything in your own life is fine,” says Holstein. “You wonder whether you should avoid talking about your successful business, for example, because other people are out of work.” Try these three tips for keeping unrealistic worry in check, while arming yourself for the unknown:

1. Do a lifestyle check. When life is smooth sailing, we tend to coast. Perhaps we phone in it at work, let our financial investments work for themselves or push self-growth opportunities aside for more entertaining pursuits. So, before the economy falls on top of you, it’s critical to re-assess everything from your retirement funds to your daily budget to your own skill sets, Holstein advises. Move money, trim the excess from your budget and arm yourself with additional training. Being proactive will make you feel empowered and confident that you can handle anything, she says.

2. Distract yourself with diversions. “Our minds are biologically wired to become intrigued by learning experiences,” says Holstein. “If we focus on what makes us happy, we’re not able to obsess about pessimistic subjects.” Occupy your mind and mood with what makes you smile—listening to music, shooting hoops with your kids, or playing with the dog. With all those happy thoughts, money stress doesn’t stand a chance.

3. Screen inputs. Know what triggers a sour mood, Holstein advises. If the nightly news reports get your mind reeling, flip the pages of a fashion magazine instead. Or if a particular friend’s negative outlook always drags you down, meet her in a group to dilute her pessimism. Finally, limit the time you discuss finances with your spouse to just one evening a week, so you’re not constantly barraged with money talk. On the other nights, choose fun family activities that remind you that all is truly well in your world.

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