Have you lost your job? Has someone in your family or close to you lost theirs? Or have you or your family lost a significant amount of your savings, or worse yet, your home?

Over the last six months to a year, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, savings, and homes. The effect of this is on every one of us and no matter what our stage of life or our socioeconomic status in life is, we all tend to react to this in remarkably similar ways.

Fear, anxiety, irritability, agitation, anger and depression are all becoming much too familiar to most of us. How much so depends on our way of looking at things and on how attached we are to others. Social support, faith and optimism seem to be the key to avoiding these unpleasant feelings and more importantly, to keep from being carried away by them.

Families can also get depressed. Together we can spiral in a downhill fashion, if we are not careful.

Studies show that 80 percent of us find these financially bad times to be a significant source of stress in our daily lives. Young people who are just finishing college are worried about getting jobs and parents are worried about how they will be able to send their kids to college. Many couples are fighting and don’t know why or don’t realize that it is being triggered by money fears. Even couples on the verge of divorce are changing their minds because they simply cannot afford to divorce.

This type of stress can lead to health problems and doctors are finding an increasing number of patients suffering from stress related symptoms.

So what can we do during these tough economic times?

If you are someone who has placed a lot of emphasis on work and material gain, now just might be the time to begin changing. Spend time with your family and friends. Join a church or temple if you are so inclined or go back to your place of worship if you quit somewhere along the way. Or if that doesn’t suit you, try joining a group where you have some mutual interest. The camaraderie and social support of belonging to a group can be a big source of relief and perhaps a place of networking for future jobs.

In your families, talk with your children, keep their moods up, and keep a loving supportive environment so that your children will grow into healthy, mature, adaptable adults. Remind your spouse or partner that you love them. Nurture your relationships. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Take a walk, make a phone call, watch a movie together or pitch in for a neighborhood potluck dinner.

We don’t have to spend money to be happy. Our children are used to getting things because we are materialistic in America. But “things” are not what we really need! We need love and support and we all need to know that we have someone we can turn to. Children can live without the next toy or special label pair of jeans. Actually, we all can live without some of these things, but we really can’t live without emotional support. Study after study has shown that social support is important to our health and to our well being. If we want to remain strong, or even just get strong again, if we want to be healthy and productive enough to turn our lives around and to look forward to a healthy financial future, we cannot let ourselves be depressed.

Our friends, families, social support networks must take on the value they deserve. Our perceptions of things must be optimistic going forward. It’s a tall order! Hard to do in these depressing times but truthfully, the meaning of an event is in the interpretation we give it. How we look at ourselves, these difficult times and the future is finally, up to us.

Now the good news is we can change the way we look at things.

Try these things:

1. Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do.

2. Make a list of the things you are grateful for.

3. Make another list of your strengths and of your skills.

4. Imagine what you want and keep thinking about it. Dream about it, meditate on it.

You may not be able to control the economy, but one thing you can control is your way of thinking.

Some of us may need help in doing so but it can be done. A major point to this article is that you are not alone. Lots of people are struggling just like you and you should not try to lift yourself up by yourself. Reach out for help and also, reach out and help someone else. Most of all keep trying and keep dreaming.

Dr. Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist practicing in Brentwood. Send your questions or comments to newshrink@gmail.com.

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