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How to Stay Calm During the Financial Crisis

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The media seems to take great delight in scaring the hell out of us at the moment. Every time I glance at a newspaper headline it tells me the 'markets' are jittery, or panicking, or in some other intangible way not entirely happy. Even for those, like me, who struggle to make sense of the business pages, it's clear that the global economy has never quite recovered from the 2008 crash; that things will be wobbly for some time; and that the debt-fuelled lifestyle we in the West have become accustomed to is no longer tenable.

But, as a former journalist, I take these headlines with a large pinch of salt. I know that - especially for mid-market tabloids like the Mail and Express - fear sells. That's why every day seems to bring news of another cancer threat - plus, of course, that paper's essential guide to avoiding it on page 18.

I know times are hard right now, but are they any harder than in the Great Depression, say, or either of the last two world wars? Is life harder for a bank worker in Surrey than a street child in Calcutta? Of course not. We may need to tighten our belts for a while and stop buying so much stuff we don't need, but we'll find a way through this.

What frustrates me about these headlines is the profound anxiety they provoke in their readers. We all know we're living through a challenging period, so we don't need reminding of it in a catastrophic, sensationalist manner on a daily basis. And if you're prone to anxiety, this irresponsible journalism can profoundly affect your mental wellbeing.

As I'm always telling my anxious clients, anxiety is caused by two things. First, looking into the future and overestimating how scary, threatening or unpleasant things will be. And second, by underestimating your capacity to deal with whatever life throws at you, however challenging it might become.

If you want to stop getting anxious about the future, I strongly recommend avoiding the papers for a while. The vast majority of those 'we're all doomed' stories are based on subjective opinion, conjecture and downright guesswork. It's a bit like long-range weather forecasts - notoriously unreliable and usually best ignored.

And crucially, realise that you are far stronger, more resourceful and resilient than you think. Look back at the times in your life when you have weathered a major crisis, like bereavement or heartbreak. Remember how it felt you would never be able to cope, that the pain and unhappiness would be too much. And now? If a few years have gone by, I'm sure it still hurts to think about those times, but it's very likely the pain will have subsided and you've got on with your life.

That's what humans do - we are remarkably adaptable and resilient creatures. We take life's knocks, regroup for a while and then bounce back. Sometimes, of course, those knocks are too hard and we may become ill - physically or mentally - for a while. But even then, with the right treatment and support we can regain our strength and get better.

So ignore the doom merchants and get on with enjoying your life - because it's far too short to waste your time worrying about things that might never happen.

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