A tonic for un­cer­tain times

Set achiev­able goals and fo­cus on what is go­ing well in your life

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - YOU - LINDA BLAIR

Al­most a decade on from the global eco­nomic crash, about the only thing we can be cer­tain of is that the un­cer­tainty will con­tinue.

The links be­tween job in­se­cu­rity and health is­sues are well known, but re­search by Jane Ferrie and col­leagues at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don throws up an in­ter­est­ing an­gle.

They gave ques­tion­naires on both phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal health to more than 3,300 civil ser­vants for the years 1995-96 and 1997-99 and found that of the three groups — those who lost job se­cu­rity dur­ing this pe­riod, those who gained it, and those whose work sta­tus re­mained un­cer­tain through­out — the worst health prob­lems were re­ported by par­tic­i­pants whose work sta­tus re­mained un­cer­tain.

Those who lost job se­cu­rity were next, but even those whose jobs had be­come se­cure again still re­ported lin­ger­ing prob­lems two years later.

Since the late ’60s, when the fa­ther of positive psy­chol­ogy, Martin Selig­man, be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing the im­pact of what he called “learned help­less­ness,” psy­chol­o­gists have noted that we are more likely to suf­fer last­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tur­bance — in par­tic­u­lar, low self­es­teem and de­pres­sion — when forced to live with ad­verse events that we can’t con­trol.

It is also true that when par­ents face eco­nomic un­cer­tainty their chil­dren may also suf­fer, as shown by Wil­liam Sch­nei­der and col­leagues at Columbia Univer­sity. They looked at the men­tal health of more than 3,000 chil­dren from 2007 to 2010 and found that boys whose par­ents faced fi­nan­cial un­cer­tainty and hard­ship were more likely than their peers to face emo­tional and/or be­havioural prob­lems.

How­ever, not all the ef­fects are bad. Larissa Tiedens and Susan Linton, of the Stan­ford Busi­ness School, found that we pay more at­ten­tion to the qual­ity of ar­gu­ments when asked to make de­ci­sions un­der con­di­tions of un­cer­tainty. When life feels more pre­dictable, we tend to go with the pre­vail­ing view or rely on what ex­perts tell us. Un­cer­tainty, it seems, makes us less lazy and more care­ful in our de­ci­sions.

So, what can you do to make an un­pre­dictable time less stress­ful and per­haps even ben­e­fi­cial? Fo­cus on what’s go­ing well: Keep a daily diary in which you record the best thing that hap­pens each day. Look back at this when­ever you’re feel­ing anx­ious.

Set small, achiev­able goals: Each week, set your­self one aim that you can def­i­nitely achieve. For ex­am­ple, plan an in­ex­pen­sive but en­joy­able treat dur­ing the week­end.

Keep a daily diary in which you record the best thing that hap­pens each day. Look back at this when­ever you’re feel­ing anx­ious.

Take care: Chronic stress can sup­press the im­mune sys­tem so make sure that you eat healthily, ob­serve a pleas­ant evening rou­tine that will get you off to bed early, and take reg­u­lar aer­o­bic ex­er­cise that you en­joy.

Give qual­ity time to those you love: Sch­nei­der found that chil­dren whose par­ent or par­ents were warm, car­ing and sup­port­ive were less dis­tressed.


A study of more than 3,300 civil ser­vants found that of those who lost job se­cu­rity, those who gained it and those whose sta­tus re­mained un­cer­tain — the worst health prob­lems were re­ported by those whose work sta­tus was un­cer­tain.

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