Posted by: coachingparents | April 29, 2009


Some of the most common personal responses to the current economic recession are increased anxiety, worry, envy, shame, self-blame, guilt, denial, helplessness and depression.  Each one of these psychological/emotional responses increases the amount of stress you experience inside your skin.  When combined, these irrational responses present a rather toxic cocktail.  The antidote for this is: develop a great amount of compassion for one another… and for ourselves. 

One of the most severe forms our increased stress level manifests is called an “anxiety attack.”  A person who has an anxiety attack may experience one or a combination of physical events (often called symptoms).   These events may include: heart palpitations (racing); air hunger or shortness of breath; perspiration or cold sweats; dizziness or “lightheadedness”; “butterflies in the stomach”; a sense that “I am about to pass out” go crazy or die; increased muscular tension, particularly in the head, neck, shoulders, and chest (often precipitating headaches); thoughts racing “out of control”; a feeling of being “closed in” or trapped; a sense of “falling apart” or “losing control of yourself; and/or pressure in the chest.  An anxiety attack is very uncomfortable, sometimes debilitating.  They can be very frightening, making the anxiety even more intense.  If you are a person who suffers from panic attacks when you think of the recession and its impact on your life, here are some facts you might find useful.

First, know that as uncomfortable as the experience is, it is not dangerous.  If you believe your anxiety to be dangerous in any way, you tend to become afraid of being anxious.  Then you increase the intensity of the discomfort.  To prevent this “secondary anxiety” from developing on top of the initial symptoms, realize that your initial symptoms are not dangerous.  They are at worst, harmless, and at best useful.  They will diminish shortly.

Secondly, use the energy created by the anxiety attack to move your body in some way.  Anxietyattack” is one of the natural ways your body energizes you, or prepares you, to meet a real danger or threat.  If you were confronted by a charging elephant, you would want all the anxiety your body could provide.  The anxiety would allow you to run faster or fight harder, or become stronger than ever before.

Saving your life is exactly what your capacity for having anxiety is all about in the first place.  So when you have an “attack” of anxiety, immediately use the energy created to move your body in a strenuous manner.  Yell, pound a soft object with your arms, jump up and down or run.  Cheer, clap your hands, stomp your feet.  Release that anxiety-produced energy in a harmless manner, or in a way that is useful to you.

Third fact:  When you feel “light headed” either hold your breath after an exhale and move your body in some way, or if you have a paper bag handy, breathe into it.  “Lightheadedness” or that sense of impending faint, is due to an insufficiency of carbon dioxide in your blood.  It is not a lack of oxygen.  To build up the supply of carbon dioxide in your body, you need to move the muscles and not breathe out any carbon dioxide.  Breathing into a paper bag allows you to inhale the carbon dioxide you exhaled with your previous breath.  You thereby increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood and the “dizziness” subsides.

Fourth suggestion:  Learn to breathe with your abdomen (tummy) and not your chest, shoulders, neck or any other set of muscles never designed for breathing.  Your diaphragm is a muscle located just under your “rib cage.”  This muscle moves up and down, creating the necessary vacuum in your lungs for air to fill them.

In order for the diaphragm to move downward, you need to expand your “stomach muscles” to make room for it.  If you push your tummy out, the diaphragm freely moves down and you fill the bottom of your lungs first and more completely.  If you are in the habit of breathing any other way, you are creating bodily tension or stress with every breath you take.  When your body is under sufficient tension, it sends signals to your brain calling for “anxiety” to help manage the stress.  Your brain “complies” and you begin to “have an anxiety attack for no apparent reason.”  Yes, the tension you create by an unnatural breathing pattern can cause sufficient stress to precipitate and anxiety attack.

Fifth bit of knowledge:  Anxiety attacks are not caused by external events.  They are most certainly not caused by economic recessions.  There are no “triggers” outside your own body.  Anxiety is caused by your interpretation of external events, but the attack is always precipitated by internal, psychological events…usually reactions to perceived threat.  You can teach your body to respond with relaxation to the same perceived events.  When you do, you “re-train” your body to react with the relaxation response to the perceived threats to which you formerly responded with panic attacks.

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends the following “tips” for relieving your anxiety:

–> Don’t worry about things you can’t control [like an economic recession].  Try to look at change as a positive challenge, not a threat.
–> Set realistic goals and limits at home and work.  If you are currently out of work, pursue realistic daily goals for finding or creating a job.
–> Take brief “mini-vacations” throughout the day.  These can be one to two minutes of daydreaming, counting backwards from 100, following your breath pattern, imagining yourself in some quiet, peaceful location, etc.
–> Exercise.  You don’t need to run a marathon, just do something active every day if possible.
–> Get enough sleep.
–> Use relaxation techniques: deep, abdominal breathing; yoga; meditation; a warm, soothing bath.
–> Treat yourself as you would a loved child.

Keep in mind, love and compassion eliminates fear and anxiety.  In an article in the recent edition of “The National Psychologist,” Dr. Michael Bader suggests, “We need to mourn the loss of our money and the financial dreams that they fueled.  …We can’t turn back the clock and pretend that this catastrophe hasn’t happened.  Thus, like mourning the death of a loved one, we have to come to terms with a new reality in a way that allows us to experience a range of normal reactions, …reactions we can openly share with others rather than hide in the closet as if they were private failures and sources of shame [worry, envy, self-blame, guilt, denial, helplessness and depression].”
We can grieve our losses with great compassion for ourselves and for others.  Then, we are able to move ahead pursuing our new hopes, dreams and our lives with greater love… even joy.


Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton 2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on


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