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Managing anxiety in tough economic times

I'm scared," says Jesssica of Houston. "I'm worried about my job. Everything seems to be falling apart." With the nation’s housing market in a slump, stock prices falling, food prices rising, and government bailouts of banks making the news each week, it’s no surprise that many people are feeling anxious about the economy and their financial future. If you’re stressed, you’re not alone. Two out of three adults say the economy contributes significantly to their stress, according to the American Psychological Association. Anxiety is a normal reaction to these events. It’s your body’s way of telling you to stay alert and work harder to protect your finances and your family’s future.

But Sally Winston, PsyD, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland, says some of her patients are also:

  • Checking online finances every hour.
  • Worrying about things that are not at risk, such as bank deposits that are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
  • Worrying about standing in food kitchen or unemployment lines.
  • Watching TV for hours each day and hearing the same information over and over.

“The worst response to feeling anxious is increased substance abuse, especially alcohol,” Winston says. She recommends getting a massage, working out, spending time with pets or children, or drinking a cup of tea.

If you find yourself worrying about the economy and your finances for hours each day, to the point where you have difficulty sleeping or concentrating on other tasks even though you are aware your fears are irrational, it’s time to take action. You can take these steps to reduce your anxiety in times of economic uncertainty:

  • Turn off the TV. Take a break from the bad news, especially if it adds to your fear and anxiety.
  • Determine if immediate action is required. Make a plan to call a financial adviser, delay vacation plans, or even to do nothing for right now. Then let your worries take a back seat to the plan and the rest of your day.
  • Concentrate on things you can control. If you’re worried about your finances, focus on saving money and paying off debt instead of fretting about the price of groceries or gas. You can’t control rising prices, but you can control how you spend your money.
  • Put things in perspective. When it comes to your finances, unless you’ve recently lost your job or you are close to retirement, think in the long term. If you take your money out of the market, you’ll miss the gains when it goes back up, which its expected to do.
  • Think conservatively. If you are nearing retirement or are worried about your job or financial security, talk to your financial advisor about diversifying your portfolio.
  • Stay healthy. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise, and allow for personal time. This will help clear your mind of negative thoughts and make it easier for you to handle stress and anxiety.
  • Talk to a financial planner for advice if you have questions. Ask friends and family if they can recommend someone.

If your worry is excessive, persistent and feels out of control, and you’re also experiencing fatigue, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, irritability, muscle tension and stomach problems, talk to your doctor about the possibility that you have generalized anxiety disorder. Treatments are effective. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you identify, understand, and modify your thinking and behavior patterns and control your worry. Some people with anxiety disorders also take medication. Relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, or exercise can also relieve anxiety symptoms.