Daniel Jay Sonkin, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in an independent practice in Sausalito, California. Since 1981, his work has focused ...Read More
You can find Part I of this article located here.
Last week, I described the anxiety that people are experiencing now and looked at physical ways to reduce that stress. Today we’re going to look at psychological, interpersonal and spiritual methods.
Neuroscience has greatly expanded our understanding of the mind – our emotions, thoughts and how they are related. Recognizing and expressing emotions about the current economic crisis can be healthy. They key is finding a balance between too much emotion and too little. If you lean toward too much emotion (overwhelmed by feelings) you need to learn how to use your thoughts to calm yourself down so you can focus on other important tasks. If you avoid your emotions (stuff feelings) you need to understand that although you may not be aware of them, your emotions are still having an influence on your moods and physical health. In fact, family members and friends may be very aware that something is going on with you, even if you are completely unaware of it. This is because we can’t not communicate. We are constantly communicating our emotional states non-verbally and others, particularly people who are close to us. I am sure that you have been around others where your picked up their moods, either uplifting or down. Emotions are contagious without our being aware of it. Partners, child and close friends may be quite aware that you are just upset (and ask, “What’s wrong?”), or they just might find themselves feeling what you are not talking about. That’s because our brains are very social and they are scanning the non-verbal communications of others. The key here is talking – people who talk about their feelings actually feel less negative emotion, than those who don’t talk about emotions. For those whose emotions are bubbling over, expressing emotion is important, but learning to calm yourself is just as important so that you can get on with other important life activities. If your worrying to the point of being distracted from other important things (like parenting or work), then your emotion expression has gone from productive to unproductive.
What are the best ways to identify your emotions? According to researchers at UCLA, emotion begins in the body. So if you want to know how what you are feeling you have to start with paying attention to changes in your body. Emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, happiness, surprise and disgust, all have physical components. Once you recognize those signals, you need to label them with an “I feel” statement. I feel angry or I feel scared. Talking about your feelings may be difficult at first, but after you get used to it, you will notice that talking will actually feel better.
How do you calm yourself down when your emotions get the best of you? There are many different ways of doing this. In fact, you may automatically already do this at times, and just need to put that technique into use more consciously. I teach clients to use “positive self-talk.” What do you say to a child when he/she is upset? You don’t yell at them and say, “Yes, all your fears are real and there really is a monster under your bed going to eat you.” No, you talk calmly and reassuringly – “I know you are scared. However, things will be ok, no matter how scary it feels, you will be Ok.” That’s what you need to do for yourself – be a good soothing parent.
Another great strategy for calming anxiety is listening to music. Research has demonstrated that music can reduce anxiety and depression, increase positive emotions, reduce blood pressure, increase memory, help with learning, and even help improve coordination. Creative expression is another way of both accessing emotion and calming feelings. Playing music, drawing, sculpture, painting and photography can all help you get the imagination juices flowing and convert anxious energy into creativity. Distraction can also help calm anxiety as long as it’s not done in excess and you are aware that you need a break. So watching television, going online, reading, going to the movies can give us a break from the worry and maybe even help us have a good laugh or cry as well.
Connections with others
There is no doubt that our brain is a social organ. That’s why people like being with other people. Of course, there is a wide range of social ability in people, ranging from introverts to extroverts, but everyone needs some kind of connection to others. Social connections help us feel less alone in the world. They give us ideas and help us learn new skills and abilities. Social relationships help us during times of sadness and loss, and support us during times of celebration and joy. Social relationships help protect us from danger. Right now, during these difficult and trying times, we need our relationships more than ever. Some people are using their relationships to collaborate and find new ways of improving their personal economies. Likewise, many people are using their relationships for emotional support and finding distractions from the daily barrage of bad news. Some people are combining their resources and finding more economical and practical ways of surviving their own severe economic setbacks. Some find helping others the best way to distract themselves from their own problems. This gives them a sense of purpose and meaning in life. It is also a reminder that we are not the only ones suffering, and that chances are others may be in more need than us. No matter how you use them, relationships with others will be key to helping you manage this crisis.
Prayer and other spiritual practices
One interesting finding of the American Psychological Association study, was that the most effective technique that people used to manage stress was prayer and/or attending a religious service. This makes a lot of sense. People often turn toward religion and prayer to find a sense of peace and tranquility. In it’s most basic form prayer helps one to contemplate and reflect, which are always good things to do in this busy world where we are constantly being bombarded with information and stimuli. To take a break and reflect on our lives is not a bad thing to do once in a while. Additionally, when prayer is directed to a higher power or being, it allows us to focus on something greater than us, which helps to put life in perspective. However, with the recent development of scanning technology, neuroscientists have been able to demonstrate very interesting changes that occur in the brain when people are praying or experiencing deep meditative states. Apparently, prayer inhibits the part of the brain that is able to separate the self from others, and therefore a sense of community or connection with the world can be experienced. It also stimulates a part of the brain that may give a person mystical visions. Which could explain why people feel a presence in their life when praying. Regardless, of what the biological basis of prayer turns out to be, without doubt it can be a viable method of managing anxiety about the economy.
When Stress Reducing Strategies Don’t Do Enough!
But what happens when the anxiety just won’t go away and it is interfering with work, parenting or your relationship? Sometimes, those old coping strategies developed in childhood don’t easily change. That might be the time to see a mental health professional. To find a therapist, ask a friend or family member for a personal recommendation. If you don’t know anyone who has been to therapy, your family doctor may know someone. If all else fails, pick up those yellow pages and look under Marriage and Family Counselor, Psychologist or Social Worker and start calling around. If you have health insurance that covers psychotherapy, you may look up providers at the company’s web site or in their provider manual. Don’t put this off, especially if you are noticing serious problems. You don’t want to compound the economic crisis, with other serious personal or professional problems.