Recession & Mental Health – Here’s your brain during an economic downturn

The past few years have been a roller-coaster ride for most of us. Whether COVID-19 changed the world for the better or worse is still uncertain.

One important development is that more people than ever report feeling stressed out, and the leading cause is financial distress. On the one hand, this means that we feel freer to talk about our mental health; on the other hand, it’s a sign of economically turbulent times.

Even if experts believe that the approaching world recession won’t have a significant impact on India, we can feel its repercussions. People are getting laid off, inflation is off the leash and the job market isn’t looking that good either.

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is affecting our collective emotional well-being. If financial woes are eating away at you, you need to have a strategy to deal with them and deal with them fast. Because they have an enveloping effect on your brain chemistry that in turn affects every other aspect of your life. This doesn’t involve doing away with your financial problems, but knowing how you can cope with the stress brought on by them.

Your brain on stress

Imagine you are in the wild at night and there’s a tiger lurking around the corner. You’re alone in an open field without any weapons or a way out. Does that sound like a situation you could get out of?

Now, imagine, you’re in the wild and the same tiger is lurking around. But this time, you’re not alone. You have your tribe with you, a flaming torch to light the way and a spear to fight the tiger. Not only do you have a fighting chance here, but you will also make it out relatively unscathed.

Financial stress is like that tiger in the wild. It threatens your sustenance and triggers the fight or flight response. You need to have a social support system and certain tools to fight it and stay out of harm’s way.

Let us explain why we compare financial stress to a threatening situation.

A stressful situation prompts the brain to change its designated driver, from the prefrontal cortex (part of the brain responsible for rational decision-making) to the amygdala (which governs survival instincts).

When your brain is in survival mode, it’s saving its energy only for activities that are crucial to survival and shutting down processes like memory retention and learning. Inevitably, this shunts your ability to make rational decisions based on your experience and learn new things.

Similar to facing a threatening situation, chronic stress from a precarious financial condition can trigger the same response in your body. Eventually, your brain literally shrinks itself to consume fewer resources and focus on survival. And we all know that’s no way to deal with a financial crisis. You need your reasoning and memory to tackle a tricky situation like that.

The bottom line

Modern living needs us to constantly perform high-order brain functions like calculating risks, making informed decisions and making choices. There’s no way a brain in survival mode is equipped to deal with your high-functioning lifestyle. You need to learn how to turn your survival mode off and minimise the longstanding effects that encompass other parts of your body as well.

Stay tuned to this space to learn how.

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