Wondering how to thrive in uncertain economic times?
"They say fear is strengthened by exercising fear. May your fear have love handles." - Eric Gibson
Jump in Life's Puddles
Psychologists will tell you that oscillating reactions involving denial, fear, panic, grief, pain and anger are totally normal in times of loss, yet this model is just as relevant during uncertain economic times. We are currently experiencing a collective loss of control, where we cannot hide from intense feelings of anxiety arising from within ourselves, or from external sources.
The trick to mastery instead of collapse under the weight of economic fear and uncertainty, is to acknowledge it, own it, and walk right through it. There is no around. Only through. We all walk at different paces through life's obstacles, but walk on we must, even if we get a little soggy during the process.
Ancient faith and wisdom traditions, as well as modern psychology, all have a pattern of advice in common. It's a message of observing, accepting, grounding, and letting go of what you can't control, while choosing to take some action on what you can. It doesn't matter what you call it, it's the golden nugget at the very core of psychic wellbeing.
Economic downturns are by definition, impermanent states. We are being given the gift of an opportunity to pause, be more fully present, and to re-evaluate our priorities for the next phase. We have evolved from indigenous collective societies focused on minimalism and sharing for survival, to an individualistic society of excess. The values often lauded aren't those of restraint, but of individually and continually seeking more. Now is the opportunity to streamline, be more mindful, and make thoughtful adjustments. As you ponder the changes you'd like to make, consider the following pitfalls and cures.
The 7 Pitfalls and Their Cures
Making hasty decisions based on fear. Using emotional reasoning to make quick decisions is never advised. Many people snap into action in an attempt to relieve their short term distress with a solution, but end up making things worse. We can't see clearly when we're at the bottom of a pit of fear. The remedy lies in a careful and patient examination of our motivations, analyzing data over time, and checking out our instincts with someone whose opinions we trust. When we take these steps we feel empowered to make changes that can help us regain a sense of control.
Denying reality. People tend to fight, fly, or freeze when faced with a shock. Denial, delay, and procrastination can take many forms. The cure is to be aware of your typical style, and to make a concerted effort to overcome your natural reaction by objectively acknowledging and sitting with the reality. You may need someone else's assistance if you're too frozen to make a judgement call on what needs action, and are having difficulty in employing the changes you wish to make.
Staying stuck in blame or guilt patterns. Anger or guilt in small doses can be useful in alerting us to situations that need to change because they're painful. Staying stuck in anger and the externalizing of blame can be paralyzing. The flip side of blame is personalization and guilt. The cure for both is to use empathy and then shift past the "why" and "who" of our current circumstances, and into the "what" so that we can get into a state of action.
Being inauthentic. Some people's instincts are to downplay the severity of the situation and to make reassuring promises. Others give unrealistic excuses to employees and clients. Still others go completely in the other direction, using catastrophizing to justify business or personal actions or inactions. This is absolutely the last thing we should do. People tend to remember being given a false cover story for why there are disruptions. The negative impact inauthenticity can have on any relationship, can't be overstated. The cure is to treat people with dignity with regard for their ability to handle a brief version of the truth. People are more understanding than you'd think when given the facts. If there is ambivalence, saying things like, "I am currently struggling with that decision and am still evaluating my options," or, "We'll be making decisions on that in the next (insert timeframe)," are perfectly acceptable responses that appropriately show the human side of the economy.
Using the same strategies to cope with novel circumstances. Assessing the effectiveness of past efforts to confront similar situations is a worthwhile endeavor. However, there are problems specific to this moment in time, and the current economic situation, that require novelty and ingenuity to solve. Even better if you can think of a strategy that combines creativity with social good. One of the best examples of a successful social media campaign I've seen during this forced confinement, was the hotel where I had planned to spend a romantic anniversary. On their social media sites, they posted an ink-signed heartfelt letter from the manager, stating that the hotel had to temporarily close until further notice. Before the closure, there were images of them donating spa quality toiletries to hospital staff. On each subsequent day after the closure, they featured an employee at home, each with a post and photos dedicated to their hobbies and what they were doing while not at work. It conveyed a simple message of caring, hope, spirit, and human warmth that made me immediately want to support the business as soon as they reopen.
Forgetting gratitude. It is really easy to get stuck and overwhelmed with "problem focused" mode and to drown in disappointment. Make sure that you are dedicating an equal amount, if not more energy, towards looking for the silver lining and counting your blessings. Being inspired by the helpers, and being grateful for the joys, however small, in your life, can help you reset the big picture and foster good feelings. Set up rewards for yourself, and engage in healthy eating, exercise, and sleep rhythms. Don't forget the benefits of oxytocin, a powerful brain chemical that helps with positive feelings. Oxytocin can be boosted by things as simple as a 20-second hug, looking into the eyes of a loved one or pet (even in photos), and by watching cute baby animal videos. Consider doing small, safe, and manageable kindnesses for others, to further increase your sense of wellbeing!
Trying to go it alone. It's easy to feel alone in our distress, and to compare ourselves to others. Society sends us messages all the time about successful people being self-made and independent, yet this is rarely the case. Studies on leaders have revealed that "successful" people took smart advantage of resources, networks, and the mentors available to them. Best practice is to seek consultation, support, collaboration, and reliable sources of information. Reach out and initiate contact with agencies and people who can help. There's nothing to lose, and everything to gain by asking for assistance.
Be Well, Be Patient, Be Kind, Get Help if you need it.