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Finding Perspective During Challenging Times
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, November 2008

The economic downturn has caused many of us to be more stressed, anxious, frightened, critical, less patient, and generally feel that we are "on edge." Some of us (or our family members) have lost (or are in danger of losing) jobs. Others have lost other sources of income. So it may seem odd timing for me to suggest that now may be an opportune time to begin focusing on the REAL meaning of the holidays. This is a time to be grateful for what we have. Prepare for and put into effect an action plan but do not dwell on the unexpected or on those aspects of our lives that we do not have or fear we will lose. Keeping a positive attitude in times of strife will help you get through the most trying times.

Remind yourself of the things that we should be grateful for and the values we hold dear. Take care of yourself, from what you eat to whom you spend time with, to taking care of your physical body and your soul. Keep your attitude in check so you do not often travel down the negative path, turning your thoughts and language against yourself. It is hard to move forward when you are simultaneously pulling yourself back!

If you have lost your job, volunteer for a local organization so you leave your home every day. Go to some place where you are needed and can make a valuable contribution. You can train to take care of animals at a local shelter, deliver food to home bound elderly folks, read books to children in a community - based after school program, sort books at the library, or collect toys to refurbish and wrap as holiday gifts. This is a time to manage yourself as you realize that there are many things that beyond your control. Develop a plan of how to approach and live each day. Decide the best time to exercise, spend time outdoors, and engage friends and family, volunteer, network, search for jobs. Whatever you do, keep to a schedule.

If you have children, be mindful of how you interact with them. Be honest but do not frighten them. It can be scary and unnerving for children to see their parents out of control and unable to cope. It can be unsettling to tell your children they cannot shop they way they used to, that they need to pay closer attention to what they (and you) can do during these uncertain financial times. Enlist their suggestions and respond positively to their efforts to "chip in." This can be done without frightening them but rather as a way to contribute (conserving, recycling, creating things they may have previously bought.)

Children thrive when their lives are disrupted as little as possible. If things in the family are going to change, share the "the plan." Yes, it can be difficult to engage them without specific answers to their questions, but engage in as anyway that is age appropriate that you can. WHEN will you get another job? WHEN will you know if we need to move? WHEN will I be able to go shopping? WHEN will we be able to go on vacation? Rather than saying, I don't know, begin a conversation about how we, as a family, will get through this time of uncertainty. That while you are looking for a job you will be meeting people, Create a set plan that will guide you from week to week or month to month and review it with them. Share what you can and try to enlist their help. You can help to assuage their fears by reassuring them that you are doing the best you can to get through this period as a healthy, tight knit family; a family in which everyone pitches in. It is a time to reinforce the meaning of family and how you rely on each other.

As part of dealing with getting through this difficult time, realize that attitude is everything. It is up to you to work out the feelings of disappointment, failure, anger, depression and let go of past hurts which may come up to "bite you in the neck" as you deal with the sense of loss and collapse and disappointment that you feel now. It is up to you to keep a positive internal dialogue alive (be your own cheerleader) as a way to make it through this challenging time. You can make yourself feel good about who you are as you focus on your strengths, talents, values, and abilities and make them work for you at this time.

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