Bond through life passages — 12 January 2009
During Stressful times stay positive while balancing emotions and logic

During Stressful times, stay positive while balancing emotions, logic

“Tis the season to be jolly”, but for many people this challenging period is anything but cheerful. When the economy is down, jobs are lost, housing issues are uncertain and even groceries become a concern, individuals become very stressed and their relationship suffers. Even those who are not at imminent financial distress absorb the mood of others around them and the daily media reports about how bad things are and that the worst is yet to come.

Emotions trigger some of the fluctuations in the stock market and when consumer confidence is low, everyone’s mood is somber. Headlines of “ we are in recession and in the worst economic state since the depression” and news reports comparing this time to President Hoover’s administration hardly merit celebration. People feel fearful, cautious, anxious and insecure about more than their own economic situation. It is the community’s and country’s shared distress.

Santa Clara University economic professor, Hersh Shefrin, studies behavioral economics, which incorporates people’s emotions, cognitive understanding, competitiveness, perceptions about being valued and more, in economic behavior. Shefrin acknowledges that several economic factors led to the current crisis, “but overarching all those pieces is psychology,”…”If it weren’t for psychological issues, even with all of that in place we wouldn’t have the fiasco that we have now.”

The common recommendation given to frightened consumers, investors, homeowners and employees is to avoid fear and abstain from mixing emotions with decision making. As well intentioned as this advice is, it is not feasible to achieve, even if it were wise.

First, every thought creates an instantaneous emotion and both guide people in their lives. Logic without intuition, feelings and hunches, is a poor sole source of guidance for human behavior. Also, our feelings such as: fear, anger, hurt, disappointment, rejection, alienation, hurt, discount, among many others, serve as essential cues for taking the necessary steps for self-preservation and survival. The mind alone provides insufficient instructions for conduct.

However, the recommendation to separate emotions from decisions is helpful if the emotions are so strong that they cloud logic or overrule it. A more balanced approach is to identify the feelings, honor them as wise additional data and incorporate their input with factual data to make healthy decisions.

It is also very helpful to balance our feelings. When we fret excessively about that which we cannot control, we need to distract ourselves. When we allow our fear to become panic that immobilizes us, we need to learn to calm ourselves through relaxation, meditation and physical release to restore our balance. If we become paralyzed by a sense of helplessness we must find ways to regain our control and homeostasis.

• As a couple, assess your economic situation. Think creatively about staying solvent, even in the worst-case scenario. Cooperation reduces stress and bolsters strength.
• There is no shame in being in need – it is shameful to not avail yourself to the existing assistance – until you get back on your feet.
• If you are not in a dire need- help others, it will cheer you up as well.
• Don’t stay excessively tuned (to radio, television, computer). Balance your time with more calming influences, (music, nature, quiet time, meditation, prayer, family activities).
• Avoid worry by creating images of positive outcome you desire.
• Make a daily mental list of everything you can be grateful for. Being appreciative cheers you up and inspires others.
• Focus on the joy of the moment. No one can predict the future. Those who do often use excessive optimism or fear, none of which are reliable predictors.
• Model your joy in small pleasures. Laugh, joke, play games, sing, cook together, cuddle and love.
• Seek the company of happy, supportive family and friends.
• Being cheerful during hard times is heroic, healing and inspiring. As you boost others up – you become more positive as well.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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