There are more people than ever before either not working or working from home.
They are in potential danger.
I received a call the other day from a client, a hard-charging entrepreneur. He was agitated and sounded desperate. “I’m chained to my desk and my PC,” he said. “I haven’t been outside in three days.”
Later that same day, I got a call from another friend who was clearly in despair. Initially, the call was to catch up and invite my girlfriend and I to dinner Saturday evening. The catch up quickly turned to the emotionally tough winter she is having. She is retired, and several activities in her life – an art class, her tennis and more – seemed to vanish, at least for now. What’s more, her grandchild, for whom she babysat a couple of times each week, had gone with her daughter on vacation. She was falling into a vortex of despair.
This is not limited to retired people, though they are particularly vulnerable to it. Individual entrepreneurs, others who work from home and the unemployed and underemployed are also in the danger zone.
In this country today, and perhaps around the world, more people than ever before are not working or working from home. While the unemployment rate hovers at record lows, the employment participation rate is at its lowest point in nearly a half- century. Some economists and commentators say that this is due to baby boomers retiring. That’s a half-truth. The economic collapse of 2008 displaced a vast number of employable people, many of them baby boomers, people in their mid-forties and older at the time, who have never recovered. Many of these displaced workers had to deal with crushing financial needs on top of the social and emotional toll of unemployment and forced retirement. Combine that with those who truly retired, those who are under-employed and those who work from home, either as employees or as individual entrepreneurs, and you have an unprecedented population of people who are vulnerable to isolation, stress, depression, drug use and alcoholism.
What are some solutions?
Economics – This is not a political or economic blog, so I will leave it to economists, industry leaders and our bumbling politicians to resolve the economic issues.
Emotions – Yes, I believe I can be of help on the emotional front. Or, I might say that if you and make a sustained effort, the four steps below will make a difference – if you use them. When we are already depressed, it is hard to pull ourselves out, but if you get up and get moving, defy gravity, the tools below will work for you. It’s not easy, but it is worth it to take up the challenge and win. If you have not yet reached the event horizon, where you have been sucked into that black hole, great, then this will be a bit easier.
4 Steps to Protect and Strengthen Our Emotional Selves.
Socialize – Yes, I know it’s hard, but you need to push yourself out there. Social contact is one of the most essential elements of brain health and emotional health. Consciously and deliberately plan social events – dinner with friends and relatives, movie dates, museum dates (even if you’ve never been to a museum, you may like it). Join social groups. That’s not you? That’s okay; you are making changes to make your life better. Join a Meet Up Group – I just Googled Meet-Ups in Bismark, North Dakota and there are tons of them of every subject and flavor. Join your church or synagogue groups. Join a bowling league. Painting, writing, who knows what untapped talents you have. Will it all work out just right? Of course not. You’ll learn and pick and choose, but even a bad social experience in one of these groups is way better than spending time alone. Plan, Plan, Plan – Yes, I know it’s hard, but plan a schedule, both a social schedule and an exercise schedule.
Exercise – Again, you’re going to tell me it’s not you? Again, you’re changing. The second most important element of brain health and emotional health (after socializing) is exercise. And, you thought it was only good for your body. Exercise pumps blood through your system and into your brain, it can cause the release of endorphins and dopamine into the brain – these are feel-good chemicals that we love. You can combine the experience and exercise with others. You should (yes, I’m using the should word), you should exercise every day and, if your doctor gives you the green light, do rigorous, challenging exercise twice per week.
Choose Your “Trance” – We do not need to be hypnotized to be in a trance. Trance is a deep state of focus. When we are in this state, everything begins to be colored by our state of mind. In a negative trance-state, we see our world – past, present and future, as bleak. We see the negative side of our experiences, of decisions we’ve made in life, of everything, including our future. Listen carefully, that is a Trance. You get to choose your trance in life, and you can choose a good trance. How? Cast your focus on what’s good and see your life through that focus. Whatever your situation, there are good parts to it. Even many “bad” experiences have elements of learning, of caring, of other good things. Focus there. Sit down and make a list of the good things in your life – they are there, I assure you. Review that list every morning and evening and add to it, because as you begin to see the world from the good things on that list, your brain will naturally see more good in your life. Plus, you will make all kinds of new and good discoveries by following steps one and two above – socializing and exercising.
Use Your Brain’s Natural Gestalt Mechanism – The brain is hardwired to seek wholeness, completeness. If there is a blank, an open question that you feel any emotional connection to, even a small one, your brain will persistently seek to answer that question, often creating an endless number of scenarios. How can you use this mechanism to your advantage? Simple and not so simple. The simple part – ask yourself well-formed questions that set your mind on a path seeking answers that make you feel good. Here are a few examples:
I wonder how soon I can feel good?
What surprise will I have today that will make me feel good?
How much do people love me?
I wonder what it will look like to have a great day today?
How good will it feel to feel good?
Why am I so grateful for Sally’s friendship?
You get the idea. One thing though, you are not asking these questions with the intention of answering them with your conscious cognitive thinking. You are asking these questions of yourself with a sense of wonder and caring. Then, just leave them out there in your mind. Your brain will seek answers all on its own, even while you’re sleeping, and create scenarios and actions and good feelings.
So, what’s the not-so-simple part of this? The first time you do it, you may notice some small or large positive change, or you might not notice it at all. You are teaching your brain a new habit, and the more you do it, the more you will train your brain to act on your behalf. You will get better and better results as you go forward. So, the not-so-simple part is staying with it and making a practice of it.
You can ask questions before you start your day, in the middle of a bad time during your day, and certainly at the end of the day when you want to set your mind for a good night. Make up your own questions and use your five senses in creating these questions. We each represent the world in our own minds using one of our senses as a primary sense. Some of us are more oriented to visual, others to feeling, some to hearing and some to taste or smell. If you know the primary sense you relate to, use that one. If not, sprinkle all of them into your questions.
One Final and Important Note – You may find that you’re in a situation where you may need professional help – a social worker or counselor. If that’s the case, please go and see one. Even if you have no money, there are agencies and religious-affiliated groups that can provide this help. The advice above is no substitute for professional help, though it can supplement it.