Calling the current world economic situation "depressing" is an understatement. Many people are having a tough time paying bills; others are in even more grim economic straits.
But it doesn't all have to be gloom and doom. Read on to get some tips on how to maintain your mental health, get a grip on your finances, and maybe even find some personal growth in these tough times.
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Don't isolate yourself
Trying to hide a bad financial situation from others is the worst thing you can do, experts on money and mental health say.
"Don't allow yourself to become isolated by shame, which is very common," says Liza Gold, MD, a psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
"Let other people in and let them know how difficult things are, and don't try to keep a stiff upper lip and bear it all yourself," she says. "It's not a burden that can be borne well in isolation."
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Talk about it
"We're social beings and we respond to social connections very well," says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.
Instead of feeling embarrassed or guilty when you're having money trouble, he says, "it's actually time to turn to those loved ones for support. You're going to hear from them that they're in the same boat, or a similar boat."
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Get mortgage counseling
In 2010, 2.9 million U.S. homeowners received foreclosure notices, a record that could be broken in 2011.
If you're behind on your mortgage payments, there's free help available in the form of mortgage counselors approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), says Craig E. Pollack, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, who studies foreclosures and health.
"They're really committed to helping people save their homes when possible, and reach the best resolution possible," Dr. Pollack says. Here's a state-by-state list of HUD-approved counselors.
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Accept your situation—for now
You have to first accept the way things are before you can change them, Rego says. "Expecting that life is hard and accepting that ultimately results in it being less painful," says Stephen Josephson, PhD, a New York City–based clinical psychologist.
"We can't necessarily get rid of pain, including the pain of losing a job or having to move," Josephson says. "But we can get rid of suffering, and suffering is failing to accept what is.
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Don't beat yourself up
When times get tough, the critic that lives inside us all "picks up a megaphone to say how terrible and awful we are to be in this mess," Rego says.
He likens this response to screaming at yourself for spilling milk instead of grabbing a paper towel and wiping it up.
"If you start beating yourself up in the moment with all those accusations and self-flagellations, you can only expect your mood to go in one direction," he says. Instead, Rego urges, be as kind and gentle to yourself as you can.
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Focus on what you can control
Take a good, hard look at your budget. Free websites like mint.com can help you get a handle on what's coming in and what's going out.
Make an action plan to improve your finances by tightening your budget and searching out new income streams.
"Do an honest assessment of what you actually need, because there's really very little correlation between things and happiness," says Brad Klontz, PsyD, a financial psychologist based in Hawaii.
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Live in the moment
"If you're spending a lot of time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, it's not good for you," Klontz says.
Do things that help you be in the here and now, such as taking a few deep breaths, doing yoga, or going for a jog.
"Mindfulness allows us to stay here and not go backward and ruminate, and not jump ahead and worry," Rego says. "[It allows us to] be here in the moment, which is the one place where we can really take productive action."
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Take time for exercise and friends
When you're in financial stress, your first instinct may be to cut back on everythingeven the nonmaterial or relatively low-cost things in life that make you feel better, such as exercise.
"That's what people end up dropping first, and it's the one thing anyone can do that can help," Rego says.
Take the time to do the things that make you happy, such as spending time in nature or hanging out with friends, he says. "Stay focused on the other valued things in your life, because money isn't everything," Dr. Gold says.
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Understand how you got here
Self-blame is hurtful, but blaming everyone else isn't going to get you anywhere either, Klontz says. "Even if it's only 5% your fault, that's the part you can change and control," he says. "And that's the part that can give you hope."
Klontz recommends taking a hard look at why you got in trouble, and taking steps to address this issue. Examine your relationship with money, and mend it if it needs fixing.
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Turn off the TV
Spending too much time in passive activities, such as watching TV, will make you depressed, Klontz says.
That's especially true today, when we're bombarded with economic doomsday news at every turn. "The media presents anxiety and panic as a great story, so when you turn on the TV that's what you're going to see," Klontz says.
"If watching the stock market going up and down every five minutes makes you crazy, don't do it," says Gold.
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Avoid drugs and alcohol
If you're under financial stress, you're likely experiencing physical and mental symptoms of stress, including tight muscles, headaches, irritability, and reflux disease, but you may not recognize what they are.
Watch for symptoms of stress and take steps to cope in healthy ways, such as with exercise.
Don't resort to drinking, using drugs, or smoking, which can lead to a vicious cycle in which your mental and physical health gets worse, and you rely more on substances for a temporary fix.
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If you're stuck on where to go next in your career, Klontz suggests seeking out someone who inspires youperhaps someone who's doing something you'd like to be doing but you don't know how to get there.
"Take them out to lunch and start interviewing them," he says. "That can be a really powerful experience in terms of opening your eyes to other possibilities."
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Reach out to colleagues
If you lost your job, it may be painful or challenging to get together with former coworkersbut it's not the time to withdraw.
You should reach out to former colleagues and other business connections. Building and strengthening your support network will make you feel better, and it might even turn up a job lead.
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Get help for severe depression
If your depression is severeor if you've thought about harming yourselfdon't hesitate to get help. Know the warning signs of suicide and keep an eye on your loved ones.
If you are helping someone you love who is struggling with depression or is suicidal, you may need to look for warning signs too.