The worldwide economic recession has affected African Americans in more ways than meet the eye. The stress and pressure to make ends meet, pay college tuition and plan for the future is taking a toll on our psyche. For many, the bleak economic climate has cast a cloudy shade of gray on overall mood. For some, such a dire sense of hopelessness has taken hold that entire families have been wiped out—literally. The national nightly news is peppered with cases of husband, wife and children all killed in a murder/suicide that chills us to the bone. Collectively we grieve the loss, but no one talks about how this ‘recession depression’ silently destroys us on the innermost levels. Therapists now explain that the numbers of clients with depression, anxiety, rage, binge eating disorders, and addictions has risen dramatically as we struggle to cope with the recession. As many lose health benefits their ability to manage chronic disease like heart disease and diabetes will also cause more problems—including financial distress and bankruptcy—for years to come.
Distress and Dis-ease Come Like a Thief in the Night. To my dismay, the health crisis creeping across our nation is one that I predicted over a year ago. I had been traveling outside of the US for over two years establishing wellness retreats in Europe and Mexico. While I kept in touch with colleagues and friends in America, I heard from afar how the threads of well being were beginning to unravel. Then I returned to Washington, D.C. just before inauguration and I felt the frantic energy of many scrambling to avoid an impending foreclosure or lay-off. With fresh eyes I saw the frenzy and panic on the faces of people in their cars, on street corners, and in my medical office. Sadly, I was not surprised to receive increased referrals for stress-related illnesses such as eating disorders, multiple chemical sensitivity and anxiety since I had been interviewed on radio and television about what I and other experts believed: with financial crisis comes neglect for personal health and prevention, poor chronic disease management and stress-related illness. Depression, panic attacks, irritability, rage, drug and alcohol abuse are some tell-tale signs of poor coping strategies.
Few of us have ever seen a recession as dreadful as this one so nothing could prepare us for the emotional pain associated with it. Nearly all of us were lulled into a false sense of security with the rise of home values, easy credit availability and a lavish lifestyle. No one thought that when the bubble would burst it would take out hundreds of thousands of educated, seemingly ‘well-off’ African American families with it. Now as people begin to pick up the pieces, move back home to aging parents and dust off their résumés, it’s time to take stock of what’s left and prepare for rehabilitation.
With death comes re-birth. For those who have lost their homes and jobs, there is hope on the horizon. If you are able to come up for air, you can see that there are some signs of rebound in the job and housing markets. It will be slow, for sure, but economists say that this period will not last forever; we will be strong players in the global economy once more. Once we hit rock bottom, there is no place to go but up. And so we must look for our silver lining and rebuild a strong foundation for lasting success and vitality.
Now you must dig deep within your soul for that fighting spirit to reclaim your health and the rest of your life, too. One client of mine was involved in high level real estate transactions for over a decade when he lost nearly everything. The stress drove him to neglect his wife and two kids and in a strange sort of denial, he continued to take leisure trips and golf outings while gaining nearly 40 pounds. With his business hanging on by a thread and financial reserves dwindling, I was asked to stage an ‘intervention’ of sorts. He had to confront the deep-seated emotional loss he felt for having to downsize to a smaller, less flashy car. He had to admit that his ego and pride were smashed when his wife was forced to go back to work to help make ends meet. Once he became aware of his destructive thought patterns and behaviors, he got on the road to recovery.
5 Steps to Survival and Beyond
I believe strongly that we all need to focus on self-protection and self-preservation and here I offer you a 5-step holistic process to well being. You must give attention to your physical, emotional and even spiritual health now and consistently over the next few years to avoid the detrimental effects of the economic meltdown.
1. Focus on your personal health with proper nutrition, fitness and relaxation to battle stress.
2. Maintain healthy, supportive relationships. If you’re already on solid ground, reach out to others in need, even if they don’t ask. Get rid of ‘toxic’ relationships that bring you down.
3. Take a ‘personal health inventory’ and honestly look at the health issues you face. Seek medical attention for guidance at the county and state health departments which can provide you with low-cost or free services based on your ability to pay.
4. Get solution oriented. Leave behind excuses, blame and shame. Work with what you’ve got at the present moment. Positive psychology tells us that we need to have hope in the future but be practical and powerful in the present!
5. Find ways to feel GOOD and self-indulgent on a health-conscious budget! We should not avoid feeling good, but avoid running to alcohol, food or unhealthy relationships to make yourself feel better. Find ways to enjoy yourself every week without excess spending. Allow yourself to get back to basics in a way that is authentic and satisfying. This will help you weather the storm while keeping your eye focused on a brighter future ahead.
Andrea Pennington, MD, C.Ac. is America’s Empowerment Doctor. She is a physician, acupuncturist, author and medical journalist in private practice in the Beverly Hills and the Washington, DC Metro area. Dr. Pennington operates Pennington Empowerment Media providing life transforming health and wellness resources via books, TV and radio. She is the creator of Diabetes Proof TM – a national lifestyle campaign uniting and empowering American families to actively transform their whole life to prevent, reverse and manage type 2 diabetes. With her newest Web destination, www.DiabetesProof.org, Dr. Pennington delivers an unparalleled resource for diabetes education, prevention and overall wellness.