As we commemorate the first anniversary of the Wall Street meltdown, much will be made about the recession’s economic impact. Last fall more than 80 percent of Americans surveyed by the American Psychological Association said they felt significant stress because of the economy. As the year has gone on, the APA now reports, fewer people are citing the economy as stressor.
That’s good news, in some ways. But for many people, the financial crisis in September 2008 and beyond led to shattered dreams and lives that were forever altered and frozen in time. Even as the nation’s economy slowly heals, it may be difficult for them to move on.
During the apex of the meltdown, some people were fraught with severe anxiety and fear. Unable to stop worrying, their symptoms grew worse. Some turned to alcohol and drugs, others to gambling and binge eating. Some simply froze, unable to open their bills each month. As the recession deepened, anxiety morphed into profound despair and hopelessness. Some gave up, stopped looking for work and even walked away from their homes.
Interestingly, at the same time some people were falling into distress, many families managed to make important life changes and were able to not only survive, but to also thrive.
They began to reprioritize, postponing vacations and frequent dinners out, in favor of spending time at home, learning to cook together and enjoying the simple pleasures. Some grabbed any job they could get or returned to school to retrain. Others decided to move home with their parents or postpone buying their own home. Surprisingly, some individuals risked financial and emotional failure by starting their own businesses.
The real question is why were some families able to rebound and recalibrate, while others struggled and succumbed to despair, bankruptcy and ruin?
America’s financial survivors have at least five distinguishing features:
- They learned to delay gratification, starting to think long term, instead of merely for today.
- They were able to pay attention to their natural instinct. If it feels too good to be true, it probably is.
- They were able to think of others’ needs (children, family, friends) rather than just themselves while they appreciated the joys of being with people.
- They focused on controlling what they could control (opening all bills and responding to problems rapidly), and let go of what they could NOT (what the stock market does tomorrow or whether your boss is in a bad mood).
- They had a Plan B or Plan C, and were able to patiently bounce back from disappointment and rejection, rather than take it personally.
Even if you did not grow up in a household where these skills were valued or taught, it’s never too late to learn. In fact, this is a perfect time.
The next year may bring a bit of economic relief, but the people who have been able to learn these psychological lessons now, and apply them in the real world, will be able to move forward. They and their families will enjoy a better quality of life long after the recovery gets rolling.
Photo courtesy of Amit Gupta.