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Staying Sane in an Insane World

Diablo talks to the experts about how to thrive in tough times.


Trinette Reed/Getty Images

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You’re stressed about your 401K, depressed about declining home values, terrified of losing your job. It’s a new world for those of us in the East Bay who’ve become accustomed to the good life and to the belief that the good life would always get better.
As we enter a new year, with a new president, we still face many questions about how and when things will improve. But have no fear, experts say: Not only can you live with uncertainty and adversity—you can thrive. Here’s their advice for staying sane and healthy in a world that feels as if it’s spinning out of control.


Ways to Manage Stress
Paula Szloboda is a registered nurse and professor at John F. Kennedy’s School of Holistic Studies who teaches courses in the physiology and psychology of stress.

1. Shift your perspective. Stress isn’t stress until you perceive it to be stress. Stress releases the same hormonal cascade as excitement. You could say we are in stressful times, but these are also exciting times.
2. Do volunteer work—because it lets you focus on something larger than yourself. And try stress breakers like biofeedback, meditation, and exercise.
3. Take care of business. Update your résumé. Call the company you owe money to and work out a payment plan. Accomplishing these tasks is usually not as bad as you think. And once they’re done, you start to build a sense of competency and confidence.



Go Back to Core Values
Kristine Carlson, the widow of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff author Richard Carlson, writes and talks about how loss and adversity can strengthen us.

It’s hard to go through pain and suffering. When it happens, we don’t have a choice. We do have a choice in how we move forward. You acknowledge it sucks. It’s not fun to lose your job, to be under stress. You look for things in life that are secure. You look at the smiles on your children’s faces as they play on the grass.
It’s a time to go back to those core values, and back to kindness. It’s time to be gentle with yourself and with other people. I hope this economic crisis pulls us together as a country. It’s about how we as a community can re-create our world and re-create it in a better way than it was before.
Adverse times are teaching times. One of my favorite things Richard said: “The circumstances of life don’t make you, they reveal you.”



Get In Touch with Your Inner Resilience
Walnut Creek’s M.J. Ryan, author of The Happiness Makeover, Attitudes of Gratitude, and Trusting Yourself, and a new book, How Do You Change When Change is Required?

How can we stay sane in uncertain times?
We have inner resources and outer resources. The inner resources are the qualities of our hearts and minds and spirits that we’ve developed through difficulties. You ask yourself, “How have I dealt with difficulties before?” As for external resources, we’re being asked to connect more deeply with others. The first time I ever bought a house, I wondered, “Can I keep up with the mortgage?” My friend said, “If you lose the house, you can always live with me.”
What if things are truly falling apart?
It’s really having the capacity to adapt and adjust. The easier you do it, the less resistance you put up. Especially when things are uncertain, you don’t know how you are going to be asked to change. Resilience is something we all have inside us.
And now is not the time to speculate on the bad things that could happen?
Don’t project into future, because you don’t know what future will bring. Ask yourself, “What can I do today? What actions make sense to take today?”
Can people still be happy?
People always think everything has to be wonderful before we can enjoy life. It’s not that you should ignore things that are difficult. A few days before my father’s death, I asked him if life was still worth living. He was dying of emphysema. Every breath was a struggle. He said, “I like to watch the ball game on TV. I like to read the comics. My life is good. Sometimes it’s easier to take a breath than others.” What he showed me was that we all have the opportunity to focus on what we can still enjoy.



Q&AImage Source Black /jupiter images
Review Your Family’s Priorities
Alamo business author Patrick Lencioni’s latest book, The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family, tries to help families tame the chaos of busy lives. Help your family face financial hardship by answering his questions.

What makes your family unique?
Answering this question can guide parents to make decisions about what we do and what we spend.
What is your family’s top priority right now?
In the next two to six months, it’s important to ask, “What is the most important thing to accomplish as a family?” It might be reworking the budget, setting up a plan for college, or helping one parent get a new job. It’s important for a family to do this as a unit. We can reprioritize what matters most. We’ll have more courage and less guilt to make the difficult decisions that are in the best interest of our families.
How do you use the answers to these questions?
Write the answer to those first two questions on a piece of paper or whiteboard. Put it up on a wall where you’re going to see it. Every week, take 5 or 10 minutes to review your goals with your spouse or your family and talk about the progress you’re making. If you’ve been trying to cut expenses, review your progress and discuss ways to make improvements. This economic crisis could be a hidden blessing. I grew up in a lower middle-class household, and we just couldn’t afford a lot of stuff. It made life simple.



Live in the Moment
Master Jian-Sheng, abbess of the Buddha Gate Monastery, Lafayette.

Change is always happening. Even our thoughts are changing. Whenever something is good, it won’t last forever. Whenever something is bad, it won’t last forever. So, this financial crisis: It won’t last forever. It could be a turning point to change our views. What already has happened has happened. Every moment is a unique moment. We should treasure every moment.



Stop That Downward Spiral
Judi Hampshire, director of the Contra Costa Crisis Center crisis and 211 lines.

• Find a quiet space, take deep breaths, and list on paper everything you perceive to be an issue or stressor in your life. Creating the list will unravel the chaos that complicates our ability to solve problems.
• Prioritize the most pressing needs on your list. Explore ways to address them in manageable steps. You may see a pattern of how accomplishing one task will help resolve other issues. Accept that you cannot accomplish everything at once.
• Create a “grab bag” of self-care strategies, and put your own well-being on your to-do list. Do things that nurture you.
• If you become gripped with despair or grief, seek support. Realize you are not alone. Reach out to family, friends, coworkers, and mental health and support services in your community.



Rethink the Rest of Your Life
Maddy Dychtwald, author and speaker on lifestyle and consumer trends for baby boomers and cofounder of Age Wave.

How will boomers need to rethink retirement?
Many baby boomers do not want to retire in the way their parents and grandparents did. That’s a good thing, because they won’t be able to. The concept that you’ll be able to retire when you’re 60 or 65 needs to be reinvented. It’s not a viable model for moving forward. There are a number of reasons, but the obvious one is that people can’t afford it. It’s not because we expected this kind of debacle, but most people don’t have the kinds of pensions our parents had.
That sounds like depressing news.
This is a horrible moment in time, but it’s also a time for creating opportunities for building a better way of living that’s more appropriate for the 21st century. I tell people: Don’t just focus on the finances. Your concerns about your finances give you an opportunity to assess what you want your life to look like for the rest of your life. We have to see this as a new beginning. We don’t have to stay in the same jobs. We can downsize, go back to school, do something we’ve always dreamed of doing.



Look for the Silver Lining
Walnut Creek’s Kathy Fettke is a real estate investor, certified personal coach, and host of the Real Wealth radio show on 560 KSFO radio.

It’s much easier to buy low in a down economy like today, when everyone else is running scared. This is the time when opportunities abound, and those who understand will profit enormously.
The biggest mistake investors make, besides following the masses and buying at the top when everyone else does, is thinking that past performance equals future performance. It does not. We must understand growth trends and changing cycles. As Wayne Gretzky says, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been...”
But let’s not forget that real wealth has little to do with money. I am my wealthiest when I’ve got a child snuggled in each arm or when I’m looking into the eyes of my husband. Nobody on Wall Street can take that from me.



Greg Riley is a yoga teacher, life coach, and massage therapist who teaches yoga privately and at centers in Walnut Creek, Danville, and Pleasanton.

A simple way to calm yourself is to bring attention to your breathing. When we’re afraid, we go into a flight or fight response. Our mind races to the past or future, and our pulse rate rises. The antidote is to take three or four steady breaths, specifically what are called diaphragmatic breaths, way down deep to a spot between the belly button and the pubic bones. The breaths stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings about a more peaceful psychological and emotional state.



To read more experts' tips and advice for our expanded web story, click to the next page.

For a list of free and inexpensive resources available in the East Bay ot helo during the tough economic times, click HERE.

To participate in our web forum, where you can comment, ask questions from a host of experts, or just read what other East Bay residents have to say, click HERE.


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