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Staying Cool in Tough Times

July 28, 2009 1:47 PM

Psychiatrist Judith Orloff is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. Her new book, Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Harmony Books, 2009, $24.95), is a guidebook to remaining positive, calm, and brave in tumultuous economic times. Women For Hire talked to her.

1) The Greatest Generation lived through the Depression and was forever altered by it. How does this recession compare to that in terms of how it is affecting people’s moods and anxiety?

As a psychiatrist my practice is booming. Never in my career of 25 years have i seen such an increase in worry, fear, anxiety and insomnia. I have been on book tour with Emotional Freedom since March, 2009 which was the height of the economic downturn. All over the country, I've been honored to be able to help people see these difficult times as an opportunity for growth and for developing courage. It is so easy to go under with negativity when facing such gigantic financial stress. Our world is in the midst of an emotional meltdown--people are on the edge. They desperately need tools for how to stay positive, focus on small baby steps forward, and to focus on the love in their lives.

2) Sometimes I think I’m losing it with worry about uncertain economy. What are some danger signs that I’m in trouble, mentally?

Danger signs include insomnia, chronic agitation and anxiety, hopelessness, and inablity to appreciate the love in your life especially in times of adversity. Also chronic depression, where it's hard to get out of bed in the morning, to get motivated, to think clearly or take action to do what you can to better the situation.

3) Obviously, no one likes an economic downtown, but what evidence is there that it has created a mental health crisis?

The APA Stress in America Survey says almost half of Americans are fearful they can't meet their families' basic needs; 8 out of 10 cite the economy as a major stressor. Meanwhile, 62 percent of Americans in a new Gallup poll described themselves as either "struggling" or "suffering" due to economic fears. The health consequences of all this stress? Nearly half of Americans admit they're overeating to cope, and nearly a fifth are drinking and smoking more. The survey also found anger, depression, headaches, and insomnia on the rise.

4) I wake up many days worried about what is going to happen to me and my family. What are a few tips to manage my fear?

Here are some tips from Emotional Freedom:

1. Stay in the Now--do not let your mind wander to worst case scenarios or catastrophize about the future.
2. Take small doable action steps to better the situations--for instance paying off $5 on a credit card if that is all you can afford.
3. Focus on the love in your life--love is the most important thing in the world. Focus on the love you have for your family, your friends, your loved ones and appreciate that especially during hard times.
4. Do aerobic exercise--this gets the endorphins, the feel-good hormones flowing and turns off the biological stress response.
5. Practice three-minute meditation--take a short mini-break to breath, relax the body and focus on something beautiful and positive.
6. Attract positive people, not emotional vampires. Be around people who are upbeat, not depressed. Engage in activities that make you feel better, such as yoga or taking a walk with a friend, rather than wallowing in fear of the pink slip, your 401(k) statement, or your credit card. bill. Affirm all that is going well in your life--good friends, family, small pleasures. Focus on what you have to be grateful for rather than stresses. These activities chase negativity away.

7. Calm down your stress hormones. Eliminate or avoid people and situations that induce the stress response in your body, which speeds up your pulse and mimics the feeling of fear. These include caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants; emotional vampires, or people who drain your energy and make you tense to be around; violent newscasts; traffic jams; and arguments.

5) What are ways to take my fears about worries about the economy and turn them to my advantage?

In Emotional Freedom, I discuss the importance of transforming fear with courage. Try to look at crisis as opportunity, a time to grow more centered, resiliant, clear and courageous. Frame it this way instead of simply sinking into despair or wallowing in poor-me. The premise of emotional freedom is that we must be committed to not living a fear-driven life--even in the midst of turmoil. Not all stress is bad. "Good stress" has been proven to motivate people into finding sucesss so you can make stress work for you by letting it motivate you to find create solutions to the current economic woes.

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