“The Only Thing We Have to Fear is…”

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address, given in the terrifying midst of the Great Depression, is quite well-known for the line: “The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself.” With 25% of the work force unemployed, there was much of which to be afraid.

Less well known, but no less eloquent and telling a comment on fear came from his widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, when she was asked late in her life to give a radio audience some guidance based on her own life experience. Recall that Mrs. Roosevelt was a timid, unattractive, and lonely child, afraid of many things; left by her widowed father to be raised largely by her severe grandmother. She eventually became world famous, not only because of her husband, but because she became a champion of the rights of disadvantaged groups and a spokesperson for the United States. Eleanor Roosevelt was a public woman known for her actions and her voice when most women stood in the shadow of a husband.

The quote? “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Good advice for just about everybody.

Worried About the Economy

Some people would say that if you are not worried, you simply aren’t paying attention: rising unemployment, big stock market losses, and predictions of more economic distress to come.

How to deal with this? Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) offers some guidance.

Remember, some amount of anxiety is a good thing. It can prepare you for danger and get you ready to take on what ever will come. If it motivates you to keep your resume updated, network, learn new job skills, or rebalance your investment portfolio, it just might help set the stage for a better future. And doing one or more of the above activities can help you get a sense of control, the feeling that you are in charge and not simply the victim of external forces.

Here are a few other things you can do to reduce your level of stress:

1. Learn progressive muscle relaxation or take a meditation class or a yoga class. In addition, regular aerobic exercise may well improve your mood and outlook.

2. Make a list of past life challenges that you have survived. How did you get beyond these? Remind yourself about the personal strengths you have that helped you to get through past difficulties.

3. If you tend to be a worrier, ask yourself just how often your expectations of bad events have been proven false. You might be one of those people who tend to catastrophize. Talk back to that tendency by writing down objective reasons why the “catastrophe” is actually less likely to happen than your feelings suggest.

4. Recognize that most bad events are survivable. As the old saying tells us, “life goes on.”

5. Recall that most negative events have an end point, including wars and economic down turns. Imagine how much better things will feel once the economy improves.

6. Focus on the good things in your life that haven’t changed. If you have a supportive and loving family, good friends, or decent health, you have much for which to be grateful. Also, if you live in the USA, your economic well being is still likely to be much better than most of the rest of the world.

7. If these suggestions aren’t helpful and you find that your stress level is unmanageable, consider going to a cognitive behavior therapist or obtaining anti-anxiety medication from a physician.

In the future I will write more about worry. In particular, I’ll discuss the well documented general tendency of older adults to worry less than younger people. Is this the result of wisdom accumulated over a life time, brain changes that occur during the aging process, or reduced life demands once you have accomplished the task of finding a compatible mate, made a living, and raised your children? I’ll let you know what researchers think.