Anxiety and the Downturn
The present economic conditions are deeply challenging to the ways that we all think about ourselves and our lives. It takes a toll on all of us to be constantly bombarded with negative economic news that often seems only to get worse with each passing day.
It’s evident to me from my practice how much anxiety is being created in each of us, and what a heavy burden a lot of people are having to carry in the present situation. At the tail end of last week, there were numerous people who came through my office who were profoundly anxious and deeply scared at the things that they were seeing in their personal and working lives as we undergo the current economic crisis.
How can we avoid being crippled by the anxiety and the fear? There are a number of things to keep in focus.
First, the economic conditions that we are confronting are governed by the psychology of the crowd. Modern communication technology only enhances and deepens this effect. Crowd psychology is prone to irrational excitements and manias when things are good, and is equally prone to mass panics when they are bad. In the short run, it can likely be expected that panic will actually worsen economic conditions, and we have to be prepared to weather that.
Second, we must fully expect that this mass panic is going to “hook” and activate all of our deepest fears. Money is a very emotional matter for the vast majority of human beings. It symbolizes our life-energy, which we have put into our work, through our sweat and sacrifice. We can expect that, when we receive the kind of ominous news that has been about, we are going to initially respond with fear and anxiety — maybe even with terror.
Third, it is important to “hang onto ourselves” by not giving way to this fear and panic. On balance, weighing decisions carefully at this time, and realizing that we are being infected, so to speak, by the panic of the crowd, and taking action in a way that really is in line with our own true feelings and emotions will lead us to courses of action that will serve us better. Also, we need to hang on to the recognition that this crisis will not last forever.
Fourth, find your basic trust in life again, and act from that. This is the time to draw on your deepest philosophical and religious convictions. What do you really believe is important in life? Do you believe that life is a meaningful journey, which is unfolding in a way that makes your life and the lives of the people close to you valuable? If so, now is the time to put that belief in front of you, and to remind yourself of it constantly.
Fifth, give rationality its due, and respect it, but recognize that logic and reason are not the only ways of apprehending and addressing life. Logic and rationality have their place in our lives, and sometimes they are the only tools that we can use, in given situations. However, they are not the only ways of knowing. There are equally deep ways of understanding and responding to life in our intuition and our feeling, and our sensation. Be open to these. All of the greatest thinkers have known that there are other voices that we can listen to in our lives that go beyond simple rational thought.
Sixth, be open to what may emerge from the unconscious to shed new light on your present life situation, and on what is going on in your world. Just when we think that we have figured out our lives, and figured out who we are, the unconscious presents us with another aspect of ourselves. There is more to you and I than we have yet taken in. Don’t be totally invested in the way that you have perceived yourself and what you have “known” about yourself in the past. Life may want to show you something new. Life may have something for you that has been neglected hitherto.
We will gradually pull out of this current downturn. However, we must expect that it is going to have a deep psychological effect on those of us who have lived through it. Whether that effect will be debilitating and poisonous, making us smaller as people, more afraid and less engaged with our lives, or whether it will be something that we weather and that enables us to see new dimensions of ourselves and our lives is, in part, up to us. It is going to depend in part on whether we accept socially conditioned images of ourselves that rely on meeting prefabricated standards of wealth and status, or whether we can accept ourselves for who we are, and our lives for what they are.
At this demanding time, I wish all of you the gifts of courage, self-awareness and self possession.