Crafting A Plan B For Tough Economic Times

How To Cope With
Financial Stress

Money and the health of the economy are among the top sources of stress for 80 percent of Americans, according to a 2008 survey by the American Psychological Association.

Some tips for dealing with financial stress:

  • Don't get caught up in the doom-and-gloom hype.
  • Make a financial plan to reduce expenses and manage finances more efficiently.
  • Recognize a spike in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating.
  • Seek out healthier ways to deal with stress like talking a walk, having a family dinner or learning a new skill.
  • Consult a financial planner or credit counselor if you need help managing your finances.

Source: American Psychological Association

What's your Plan B if your current job becomes another casualty of the recession? New layoff announcements seem to come nearly every day and a new report from the Society for Human Resource Management says the situation won't turn around anytime soon.

So, the Plan B question is one many people are pondering, regardless of age.

"I think about going back to school," says Taylor Dunn, 25, a fundraiser for an environmental group in Colorado. Dunn says he's not too far out of college, so the thought of going back and taking out student loans to help pay bills has crossed his mind. He's also contemplated doing some traveling if the worst happens, most likely to inexpensive locales where he can stretch his dollars.

The declining Dow, rising unemployment and a failing financial system are stressful enough, but then there's also uncertainty to contend with.

"So much is unknown and we're still waiting for the other shoe to drop — the other shoes to drop," says Denver nurse Pilar Baca. "I think nobody really thinks that it's over yet."

Baca, 65, said she should be retiring soon, but with recent losses in the stock market she'll be working longer than originally expected.

Bouncing Back

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper knows about the stress that comes with losing a job. In the 1980s, he was a geologist with an oil company. Then oil prices took a nosedive.

"I got laid off on July 5, 1986," says Hickenlooper. "I remember it like it was yesterday."

Hickenlooper was depressed for a bit, but found that looking back at his past successes helped him pull out of the funk. He reached way back to high school when he was a junk ball pitcher and won a few big games for his team.

"You know, it's funny — maybe it was self-delusion — but I found a level of confidence that I don't think I'd had before," Hickenlooper says. "I actually began talking about and thinking about it [the layoff] as the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I was just saying that this is going to be the chance of a lifetime."

Managing Economic Stress

The American Psychological Association says the good news about economic stress is that it can be managed. The organization has compiled some suggestions for this.

First, it's important not to freak out and get caught up in thinking about everything as a catastrophe.

"It's very hard, but try to stay focused in the present," says psychologist Nancy Molitor, who runs a private practice in Wilmette, Ill., and helped the APA compile its list of suggestions. "It's a cliche, but it's really helpful right now to think about that."

She suggests reminding yourself to focus on the things you can control. Then, with a calmer mind, you can assess your financial situation and write a plan for getting through the hard times.

Molitor also suggests watching for behavioral warning signs. To relieve stress, people often turn to unhealthy activities such as smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating. If a problem persists, it's time to seek help.

Layoff Syndrome

And just because you've survived a round or two of layoffs doesn't mean you're in the clear.

"There's actually a syndrome that we call the layoff survivor syndrome," says Tahira Probst, associate professor of industrial organizational psychology at Washington State University in Vancouver.

Layoff survivors experience a mix of emotions, Probst says. Often, they are more dissatisfied with their jobs after their peers are let go. And ironically, they're more likely to express intentions to quit their jobs, especially if the company handled layoffs badly. Survivors also tend to hunker down and go into survival mode.

"They don't want to take chances," Probst says. "They don't want to stick out their neck. And so you can actually find that you get these more risk-averse employees and that can diminish the creativity and innovation in an organization."

Probst says employers should respond by communicating openly with workers about problems the organization is having. And, she says, simply treating people respectfully will go a long way toward creating a healthier workplace.

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