The Times Online – Survive and thrive: financial insecurity

The Times Online

Financial insecurity is one of my specialist subjects, although I wish it wasn’t. Anyone who has a business or a mortgage, rent to pay or debts to face – and who has watched the global economic collapse over the past few months – knows what it feels like to worry about bills. It’s frightening and even if you haven’t over-borrowed, the climate of financial gloom is infectious.

We know too that anxiety affects your health, your heart rate, your circulation, your sleep and makes you reach for the drink that you don’t need, the cigarette that your doctor has told you not to smoke and the chocolate that you know you should leave on the supermarket shelf.

So how can you begin to take control of your financial worries? What you think, you tend to get. My advice is that instead of imagining a negative outcome – which will only push you towards a mentally created abyss – think of a positive one. You’re going to keep your house, you’re going to survive no matter what, you’ve got inner resources and you’re not too proud to ask for help.

Concentrate on the outcome you want and, keeping yourself anchored in the present, start to take small steps towards it. Perhaps you need to phone the bank, keep an appointment with a prospective employer – or maybe just do your tax return. But suppose you feel so anxious that you’re stuck ? One way forward is to recognise that you don’t have to do everything at once. As a first step, try simply identifying when would be a good moment to begin the task – decide on the least you could do. For example, you might say: “I don’t think I could phone the bank but I could begin to think about what I would say.” Write down a few bullet points.

You still don’t have to make the call, but having chosen the right time you can then get everything ready. At that moment, think about how, if you took a wonderful long deep breath and straightened your spine, you could pick up the phone and dial the number. Maybe you’ll hang up. But then you might take a deep breath, straighten your spine and know that if the phone was answered you would be confident about what you needed to say.

You can use the same process for a meeting that is making you anxious. Maybe you’ll get ready, maybe you’ll get to the building – but you don’t have to go in – or maybe having got that far you take a deep breath and maybe walk into the lobby. Use good breathing to walk in, use your posture, look around you, you might enjoy meeting someone new, you might have an interesting conversation.

Always give yourself credit for each step forwards, rather than looking at the whole task. You might not be able to solve the problem today but you’re in a better position to come back and do some more work on it tomorrow. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve – and how good each step makes you feel.

A mantra to make you stronger

Having done the visualisation exercise on the previous page, you know that you have inner resources on which you can draw. So think of a few words that focus on your strengths and your ability to survive the financial crisis. “I am strong,” or “I can and I will,” or “I’m in control living in the moment” – something like that. Write your mantra down, scatter it about the place and get used to saying it out loud, always with meaning, sitting up straight and using deep breaths.

Slowly the idea will become internalised. As you drink down the positive thought breath into it and combine that with good posture. You will find that you are stronger than you realised.

The next stage of this exercise is to sit down somewhere quiet and undisturbed and close your eyes. Imagine that all your financial troubles are immediately in front of you, as though stuck to the side of a vast forbidding mountain. The bills, the mortgage payments, the overdraft, the collapsing shares, they’re all there and your financial problems seem overwhelming.

Then imagine that an open-topped car appears on the horizon and drives towards you. As it approaches you’ll see that it’s driven by a good friend who invites you to get in and go for a spin. Your friend drives away from the mountain down a long dirt road, then stops the car and invites you to get out. As you turn round you can see the mountain in the distance, but now it looks small set against the rest of the landscape and you can’t make out the details of your financial troubles.

You’re in a desert but what you can see clearly is a nearby tree, beautiful and ancient and somehow it has fresh growth on it. It has tenacity and resilience, it has survived and even thrived in this hostile climate. And you remember your mantra: “I am strong.”

Avoid bad news before bedtime

Every night you watch the 10pm news before bed. What is that doing? If you’re worried about financial insecurity and a jobs cull at work then, just before you retire for the night, you hear that hundreds of workers have been laid off and there’s a big fraud, how well do you sleep?

In times of troubles, absorbing even more anxiety isn’t a good idea before sleep. It creates distortion. It’s late, you’re tired and this is never a good time to talk about your financial problems – and neither is it a good time to listen to details of the recession. Better to look at these things in the light not the dark, in the daytime when you’re more positive and have a broader perspective. Before you go to bed, do something that relaxes you, such as listening to music or reading a novel. Or listen to my podcast on sleep, which will be available later this week.