Some of you know me and know that I am (perhaps sometimes annoyingly) an optimistic person. I can silver line anything. Try me.
This pandemic is seriously testing that optimism. I have to seek out and mentally grasp for bits of hopefulness so I don’t fall into a (Princess Bride reference warning) Pit of Despair.
I received a wonderful email from one of the best journalists in financial planning, Bob Veres. He expressed concern for us, his audience, since not only are we experiencing the pandemic and personal economic losses, we’re fielding questions and concerns from our clients about the same. The burden is great, and I hadn’t realized it until I read his heartfelt message. I am in this with you.
About a year ago I contracted with an Employee Assistance Program to deliver seminars on financial well-being. This has been a marvelous partnership. I’ve been asked to create a presentation (to be done via Zoom, of course) on reducing financial stress. There is some irony at work here and I realize that I am crafting the presentation for myself as much as for anyone else. Physician, heal thyself.
Here are some things I’ve found helpful. Take what works for you and leave the rest.
- If you’re a person of faith, I think that can be tremendously powerful. Read your sacred scriptures (Psalm 91 is a favorite of mine right now), meditate and pray. Kneeling or walking can help your body devote its energy to the effort, rather than just your mind.
If you’re of the Judeo-Christian tradition, keep in mind that the first (and therefore, potentially most important) commandment is that we put God first and not have any other gods.
Things we fear can become gods just as much as things we worship. This virus can become something to which we give more time, interest, and energy than our Higher Power. Flip that proportion. All the specialists in the world -in medicine and economics- cannot know for sure what will happen.
- Turn off the news. If you fear you’re going to miss out on some crucial information, I assure you, it will be there tomorrow. You know what you need to do (practice social distancing, wash your hands, clean your frequently used items, drink lots of water, get enough rest, get some exercise). This is not going to change.
- Know when you’ve had enough of social media. (I have. Even funny memes are on my nerves these days.)
- BUT find something that you can laugh at. I think comedians have the most important job in the world, they let us laugh at the ridiculousness of life so we can make peace with the fact that we cannot control it.
(It’s a stuffed skunk.)
- Take some deep breaths.
You can add a mantra; something you repeat. Make it simple and brief. Sometimes I just repeat “Love is true.”
- Rather than say, “I am…(afraid, stressed out, broke, in debt, etc.)” switch to saying “I feel (afraid, stressed out, broke, in debt, etc.)” because saying I AM sounds definitive and permanent; an opinion or temporary situation that becomes part of your identity. Feelings are just as transient as opinions and situations, so you can let them go more easily than pieces of your identity.
Also, opinions are not facts.
Now more financial particulars:
- This is a great time to create your bare bones budget. What do you really need to live a good life? (Be discerning but don’t be harsh, be sure include a line item for chocolate or your favorite indulgence.) Pay attention to your money. When we’re working and making enough -or a surplus of- money we might not be paying attention. It’s okay, forgive yourself and move forward.
- In the U.S., the CARE Act has many wonderful provisions to help us economically survive. I haven’t read through all of it as yet but I’m sure you’ll be apprised of the provisions applicable to you in the near future. Help is on the way.
- In the meantime, if things are financially tentative for you, reach out to your creditors and let them know you may need some leeway. Learn their terms and expectations during the crisis. You may be on hold for a while, put it on speaker and fold your laundry, dust, clean the frequently-used surfaces, knit something, whatever.
- Find a way to give to others. It totally changes the dynamic in your finances. Neurologically, when you give away and don’t suffer from doing do, your neuro-pathways get rerouted and you begin to believe in abundance.
- The stock market’s declines make us all feel like we’re not in control. But the stock market is only one aspect of our financial lives… and this is not going to go on forever.
- Learn from this time; let this crisis teach you about how you want to use your money in the future. I’m not saying this to scold but, rather, to remind you that you are in control of what you do with your money. I hope that brings you some peace.