A Moment for Some Inward Focus

It’s hard not to notice all the negative news hitting from all angles lately. Roiling markets, bailouts, rising unemployment and declining 401(k) balances. It’s easy to get caught up in it, and to find yourself in an all-out panic. Or at least a funk. A New York Times article a few weeks ago that touted the benefits of making a big, life-affirming purchase -- despite the troubled economy -- has really stuck with me.

The article really made me think smaller, actually – easy, inexpensive, or life-organizing things that we can do for ourselves that can make a big difference in our moods, getting us through the day, the week, or maybe even this whole lousy market cycle. I realize there are a lot of people working especially insane hours this time of year, but that’s all the more reason to carve out a little time to focus on some more personal issues:

Check in with yourself. Even though we often lose sight of it, each of us knows what works best to relieve stress – whether it’s meditation, yoga, playing or listening to music, handy work, cooking, reading, or exercising, make sure to budget some time for the healthy activities you love best. Or give up an unhealthy habit: A friend recently quit drinking Diet Coke after decades of being addicted, and is feeling great; another quit monitoring market gyrations during the day, and finds he’s way calmer and more upbeat.

Stay close to home. Consider scaling back on outside activities and catch up on rest, home projects and time with your family. Explore a neighborhood park or gallery. Organize a touch football or softball game. Invite friends over for a game-watching party, or holiday-movie-watching party. Clean out a closet, or reorganize your kitchen or garage. After years of thinking we didn’t have the time or energy for a dog, we recently adopted a shelter puppy. It’s brought us together as a family (and certainly provided lots of opportunities for exercise). 

Give back. We all know someone who is worse off than we are. Look for opportunities to volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. Donate the results of your closet cleaning to a worthy organization. Go shopping or rake leaves for an ill or elderly neighbor or relative. Watch a friend’s kids so that she can do some errands.

Get focused at work. We’re all being asked to do more with less. Make sure you’re not spinning your wheels unnecessarily. Confirm priorities with your clients or manager. Prioritize your to-do list at the beginning (or end) of each day. Delegate or outsource what doesn’t absolutely need to be done by you. Set aside a limited block of time to read internet news and non-urgent email, or check the market.

Take the long view. We’ve been through tough periods before, and will get through this one. Count your blessings, assess your personal and professional strengths, and don’t stop making plans for the long-term goals that are most important to you.

Lastly, make sure to give yourself a few cheap treats – a non-fat latte, or beer and popcorn in front of the TV, may be just the thing to lift your mood. We’d love to hear about your ideas to stay positive – it can certainly be tough these days!