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"Get by With a Little Help from Your Friends"

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It seems everyone, from financial experts to real estate agents, has offered practical advice on how to survive the recent economic downturn. But what about psychological advice? Even as the economy takes a turn for the better, there are few answers on how to cope with the fear and frustration that many of us are still living with everyday. For those of us, the most vital advice is also the simplest: do not isolate yourself.

Not one of us hasn’t felt the weight of the recent economic crisis – not only the practical but the emotional impact. While, in low moments, we may feel alone in this, alone is the last thing we should be. When someone is suffering from emotional depression, therapists will tell them not to isolate themselves, and the same advice holds true when faced with a financial depression. The key in keeping yourself out of the darker corners of your mind is to seek out the friendship and companionship of others.

A natural response when negative emotions are aroused is to become inward. Most of us have learned that when we feel bad, we are supposed to be strong and not bother anyone else with our problems. But this solution never works. Being all alone inside your head is not a good place to be. Pretty soon your negative feelings start working on you. Your fear can turn into torturous, compulsive thinking. Your frustration can turn into feelings of being victimized and powerless. You can begin viewing yourself as a failure, which then triggers shame, guilt and depression. The longer you isolate yourself, the deeper and deeper you will spiral into a negative, self-destructive way of thinking.

However, if you resist the tendency to isolate yourself and reach out to other people, you will find that you are not alone. Others feel like you do; others are going through what you are. And you will find that you aren’t as hard on them as you are on yourself. Your compassionate attitude toward them will influence you to have a friendlier view of yourself. And their benevolent attitude toward you will counteract your negative self-attacks. So for your mental health, and for the mental health of your friends, counteract the impulse to go inward and reach out to others.

Research has proven that being social can help target depression and improve people’s mental health. When you avoid an isolated, self-critical way of thinking, you are far more able to think logically and behave pro-actively. Friends remind you that your worth is not determined by how much you make or defined by what you do. They offer a crucial perspective that counteracts your own critical point of view.

Even if you’re not comfortable turning to your friends for sound psychological advice, the simple distraction of being in another’s presence can take you out of your head. Something as simple as taking a walk in the park, chatting with a stranger or connecting online with an old friend can help free your mind of negative thoughts. When a college classmate of mine was laid off after only a few months at a job she adored, she found solace talking on Facebook with friends who’d undergone a similar fate.

In a recent issue of Newsweek magazine, a reader wrote about a group of people who have met for dinner every Friday night for several years. She spoke of the hardships the various participants have endured over this past year and of how the friendship and concern that have developed among these “dinner guests” is supporting each of them through these hard times. She wrote, “What will save us? I don’t know, but the one thing that helps, from week to week, is dinner with friends…We try to believe that, somehow, we’ll survive this present crisis. But for now, dinner together feels like our last best hope.”

Newsweek, Nov 24, 2008 Just before Thanksgiving, Alicia S Rapp, Melbourne Fla. “My Turn, Dinner for Eight “(myturn.Newsweek.com)

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