Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.

Just Listen

Does America have Financial PTSD?

The Dow goes down, you want to throw up.

Posted Jul 30, 2010

You listen to the stock market reports as if rubber necking a car accident. And when you hear about that 150 point drop in the Dow, you’re not merely disappointed, you feel a kick in the stomach and get nauseated or light headed. Your boss reassures you that there will not be any more layoffs, but his voice seems tentative. Nauseated and light headed again. You’re speaking less and less to people around you. You’ve lost your sense of humor. Even if you’re a calm person, you have to struggle with your own road rage if someone cuts you off in traffic. Your drinking is up. And as far as dieting, exercising, taking care of yourself or having a healthy happy sex life? Forgeetaboutit.

What’s going on? You are continually being traumatized and re-traumatized, can’t get your footing and instead of becoming stronger, you’re becoming more anxious. And if the following hold true, there’s a good chance that you have Financial PTSD.

Re-experiencing the traumatic event

  • Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
  • Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
  • Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)

PTSD symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing

  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)

PTSD symptoms of increased arousal

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled

Other common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Anger and irritability
  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Feeling alienated and alone
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Headaches, stomach problems, chest pain

What can you do? First off, knowledge is not just power, it also helps gives you control over anxiety. To that end you could start to take a Financial Literacy (see resources below) course to better understand money and finances. That way you won't feel so dependent on and vulnerable with institutions you may have trouble trusting at this point.

And you can actually seek the same treatment that soldiers with PTSD or rape victims (and doesn't a part of you feel raped by the economic events of the past couple years?) including support groups, seeking out a therapist or psychiatrist and checking out resources such as those at the bottom of this blog.

You also might do well to heed and follow the famed Serenity Prayer (so embedded in the fabric of 12-step programs): "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

Too inspirational for you? Need something more concrete?

Then how about:

  1. Each day when you wake up say to yourself and write down the answer to: "What do I need to do today (or the next week), to make my company/department/organization a better company/department/organization and my marriage and family happier and my health healthier?"
  2. Then "Just Schedule It." Either for today or the next few days, because you haven't made a commitment until you've scheduled it and you haven't kept a commitment until you've checked it off after you have done it.


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