Saturday, February 24, 2007

Surviving in a Time of Anxiety

Surviving in this Time of Anxiety.

The millennium has begun with a lingering uncomfortable feeling of anxiety. The Y2K problem was a fizzle, but the stock market crash that began in March of 2000 was not. We have entered a time of anxiety and uncertainty. The economy hit a wall, job lay offs have arrived, tech companies are down and people’s retirement accounts have taken a serious hit. Just another small down turn or the beginnings of something far more serious? This is the question that produces the anxiety, and it is this anxiety that thoughtful people need to manage.

Scott McNielly, the head of Sun Microsystems, was recently asked if he saw a bottom to the turbulence. He responded, “how can you predict the bottom, when nobody saw the cliff”. And it was a cliff. The NASDAQ index and the technology stocks have been hit much harder than the general market and in real terms, the debacle for the NASDAQ has been worse than the stock fall during the great depression. What is happening? What is coming next?

Retirement income has been lost. Millionaires on paper with stock options that are now worthless have become ordinary people. Not that they were millionaires in reality, but it is a major lose to find yourself adjusting to a reality that you believed to be true. It is one thing to imagine and plan that you have assets, only to wake up one year latter and find that all those paper profits have disappeared. And for others, the paper profits are deeper wounds. Some have lost houses they purchased, retirement accounts that they saved for retirement, while others have financially been wounded so deeply that the anxiety has created serious depression and deep cynicism.

How to survive in this age of anxiety? How do you master the feelings that are associated with the uncertainty. These are the challenges that many people now have to face. Veterans of economy cycles have greater security than new comers. They prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. But in reality, everyone is confused about the future and all of us have to cope with feelings of insecurity. Even if we go untouched, we have to watch friends and family struggle. It is a lot easier to collectively ride the good times, than manage the downturns.

What is important is that we assess the situation and learn to accept what has already happened. Being angry with yourself because you didn’t foresee this downturn, and prepare accordingly is expecting you should be a perfect prophet. Very few people know when or how to ride the waves of economic upheaval, and believing you should have had such insight is to expect far too much from yourself. Such self anger leads to depression. Acceptance of the current situation as it is, and making adjustments is a much better use of your time.

These are times when resourcefulness is needed. Resourcefulness is the ability to respond quickly to changing times. Too many people allow the fear coming from the uncertainty to paralyze them. Assess the situation, take charge and act accordingly. Movement is imperative. No movement products depression.

When economic conditions become difficult, it is an opportunity to reassess priorities. Unfortunately the dark side of capitalism is the need to consume. But consumption in down times may be unwise. And thus the cycle can be prolonged, because capitalism to survive needs consumption. Tax cuts and lowered interest rates are designed to produce more consuming.

Prioritizing your assets, means you value love, hope, joy, friendship more importantly than “things” or possessions. Finding inner peace is coming to terms with what is, rather than struggling to accept what has already happened. Seasons of economic charge are inevitable. Winter follows summer, and the happiest among us learn to value all the seasons, and accept the beauty within every time of year. With winter comes cold, but the cold has within it an opportunity to produce inner family warmth.

Anxiety will come and go, but the transition from living abundance to conserving can produce inner balance. It is finding this balance that is important. When the movement within the transition is strongest, the anxiety is most powerful. Riding the waves of change is perhaps one the tasks of life. Mastery in handling the difficulties of changing seasons is perhaps course 101 in the university of life.

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