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As your bank account falls, just say 'om'

September 29, 2008 | 11:44 am

Bank1If you've opened your quarterly bank, IRA or 401(k) statements in the last few days, you've probably experienced that sickening feeling of seeing your investments for important items like college or retirement savings plunge. The financial crisis is taking a big toll on personal mental health these days.

But this is also a time when it's useful to distinguish between what mental health experts call productive worry and unproductive worry. Apparently, you'll survive this whole financial mess better if you learn to worry effectively.

Productive worry, says psychologist Josh Klapow, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, "is thinking on situations you can control, and you should use productive worry to take actions that reduce stress and relieve anxiety." An example might be: Start planning your holiday shopping now in order to establish a realistic budget, save some money and find the best shopping bargains.

Conversely, he says, "Unproductive worry is thinking about things you cannot control." An example? Stop stewing over what Congress is doing this week. You don't get to vote.

Klapow, the author of "Living SMART: 5 Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever," offers four points to help people endure the economic crisis. The tips seem a bit trivial. Deep breathing exercises won't restore your home equity. But then freaking out won't either.

  • Take action. Make a family budget, meet with a financial expert, trade in your car for a more fuel-efficient one.
  • Take a step back. In other words, turn off CNN. "Don't saturate yourself with stressful information," Klapow says. "Stay informed, but take a news break."
  • Stay connected. Pay attention to your family, friends, social occasions and recreation.
  • Pay attention to yourself and remember that stress takes a physical toll. Do meditation, exercise and breathe slowly and deeply.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: George Frey / Bloomberg News

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