Bond through life passages — 11 December 2008
When times get tough, find your strength in your mate

The current economic conditions have given rise to a marked increase in anxiety for Americans. High gas prices, the collapsed mortgage industry, housing worries, the erratic downturn fluctuations on wall street, tight credit, banking woes, and rising unemployment have left most people worried and insecure about their economic survival.

As people’s anxiety soars and with no clear options for improving their future, depression, hopelessness and even despondency afflict many individuals. In New York, calls to the Hopeline Network from people feeling depressed and suicidal have increased by 75 percent since August 2007. A poll Taken by the American Psychological Association in April found that three out of four people were stressed due to money concerns, which is likely to even be higher now.

ValueOptions, Inc., the fourth largest U.S. provider of behavioral health and wellness services, reported that requests for help about home foreclosures, bankruptcy and other financial difficulties increased by 89 percent this year as compared to last year. Rich Paul, their Vice President said that worries about finances and housing “causes marital conflict, extreme stress, anxiety, depression”.

Hospital admissions for psychiatric care and substance abuse have increased by 10 percent this year over last year and outpatient services rose by 5 percent for the same period as reported by one Minnesota-based United Health agency.

The anxiety felt by so many is understandable and appropriate, when one’s economic stability is threatened. Anxiety is the emotion associated with uncertainty and powerlessness. The less control one has over the stress-inducing factors the greater the distress and panic. Being emotionally trapped for an extended period of time without seeing a way out is conducive to disease, physical and mental illness, addiction, and severe marital distress.

When communities, not just individuals, share the same distress, it further magnifies the panic and helplessness each person feels. It leads to further isolation and for a few to drastic measures of desperation.

Couples do have the support of each other and should remain a strong team in times of external pressures. It is easy to turn one’s frustration on a mate, who is near and available. However, that is most unwise and only increases distress within the family.

What couples can do is worry privately and forge ahead as a team:

• Realize that though most factors are out of your control, some are within your power to manipulate.
• Abstain from taking out your frustrations on your mate or family. They are your core of strength and realizing it will fasten your resolve to resort to behaving by your higher standards.
• Discuss your emotions with your mate without exacerbating each other’s dire view of the worse case future.
• Proceed with practical steps. Itemize your financial threats and devise a plan of action. Determine who you can consult and what YOU can do to improve the issue. This step counters helplessness and immobility with energetic forward movement.
• Analyze your budget and determine how you can reduce some optional expenses. Mutually deciding how to spend and save more wisely is empowering.
• Distract yourself from obsessive fear-inducing thinking: limit television viewing, reduce conversations with peers about how badly things are going, initiate hopeful thoughts and discussions about economic recovery, read for pleasure, seek humor and laughter as much as you can.
• If you encounter sleeping, eating, or sexual changes, deep sadness, loss of interest in previously enticing activities, relentless preoccupation with your woes, do consult your personal physician.
• Trust that the dire situation will improve. History taught us that economic recovery and the emergence of prosperity have occurred before and thus are likely to happen again.
• Relish what you and your family do have. As a couple you have each other and being a united team will reduce your vulnerability and facilitate your transition to better and more secure times.

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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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