Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Urban Mindfulness: Mindfulness and the Financial Crisis

By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D. in Urban Mindfulness

Here in the city (and all over the country), anxiety about the financial crisis is palpable and omnipresent. Thousands of people, especially within the financial services industry, have been losing their jobs. Real estate construction and development have slowed or ceased, while home sales plummet. Retail businesses and restaurants have been doing poorly too as many of us cope with a decrease in income by reducing our spending.

How can mindfulness help?

Mindfulness can help by reducing our suffering in a very painful situation. The financial crisis has a negative effect on our home finances, savings, and fulfillment of some life dreams (at least temporarily). This is our current reality--and it hurts. Unfortunately, we often make this bad situation worse as we become mired in regret, fantasy, and worry. "If only I sold my stocks 1 year ago..." or "I'm never gonna get another job" are common reactions to the crisis. However, emotionally such thoughts make us feel worse. So here are a few mindfulness pointers:

*  Notice where your mind goes. Are you stuck in regret or blaming others? Are you catastrophizing about the future? Bring your attention back to rest on your breathing.

*  Find ways to reconnect with positive aspects in your life, like your health, family, or faith. Often, we dismiss expressing such appreciations by adding "Yes, but..." The "but" takes away any joy or satisfaction from things that are going well. Real life is good and bad, not good but bad.

*  Re-evaluate and do constructive planning and problem-solving. Mindfulness can help us see what is really happening and deal with it appropriately. Not being able to pay the bills might be a reality for you. So, minus the worry, anxiety, and recrimination, what are your options? How can you increase the money coming in and reduce the money going out? Perhaps you need to find another job, borrow money from friends or family, or sell some of your stuff. None of these actions are easy, but they might be necessary. Getting caught-up in worry, guilt, shame, and other destructive emotions can only delay taking productive action and make you feel even more miserable.

*  Finally, notice your mindset now vs. 1 year ago. Chances are, you saw your life as being deficient at that time, too. You wanted more money, an iPhone, or whatever. You told yourself, "If only I had [X], I would be happy." Now, we are confronted with reality of having less than we did previously; our mindset matches actually matches our circumstances. In fact, we might even find ourselves longing for how good we had it before, at least financially. At the time though, we weren't satisfied with it. This irony suggests that we need to recognize the problem in dwelling on thoughts that we're deficient or need something that we do not have. Not until we recognize and accept our current circumstances can we be free to change it.

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