Christian Living


Hollywood Insight 02/15/11

Stuck in Survival Mode?

Managing stressful moods attached to money
By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator

When you are one paycheck away from financial disaster it doesn’t take much to trip and fall over into the abyss of despair. News of foreclosures, downsizing and soaring bankruptcy levels only make it worse for terrified and stressed out families who often feel stuck in what I call “Survival Mode”.

When a family feels stuck in the survival mode they worry about everything. Stress comes from every side; getting enough groceries or gasoline can be a struggle, trying to figure out how to get through the challenges of making rent, trying to find enough money to turn around and pay down their growing debts. A roof over their head is one of the biggest factors because often they are forced to move from the home they have lived in for years over to more affordable temporary housing.

They have to go through major adjustments because of reduced financial resources which ripple over into areas you might not think of like family members who avoid going to the doctor when they are sick because there isn’t enough money for medical care or prescriptions. Vacations are replaced by ‘stay-cations’ because the concept of disposable income for the purpose of casual entertainment is long forgotten when a family is stuck in survival mode. College and retirement are also forgotten concepts because they struggle to just get through the day.

Destroying more than credit scores

During these tough economic times we have seen financial pressure destroy more than money and credit scores. Marriages breaking up, workplace violence, aggression toward banks, the IRS or financial institutions, a spike in suicide, homicide, or familicide, along with a rise in addictive behaviors, (gambling/porn), an increase in alcoholism and prescription drug addiction. Face it, many people are caught up in a tangled web of intense emotions and it’s caused by fear way more than by finances.

There is an old saying on college campuses, “no mon – no fun” or put another way, when the cash runs out, the party is over. This mindset isn’t just true for college students, because there are millions of families facing financial distress who are feeling that their lifestyle is over because they are stuck in the survival mode of daily life. For these families there is no fun while waiting for a financial lifeline to be thrown their way before they drown in debt. So how can families facing incredible financial pressure break out of the survival mode?

Survival is more than it seems

First understand that SURVIVAL is not just a physical concept, (like food/water/shelter), it is also a psychological one driven by deep emotional needs to feel safe and in control on one’s surroundings. When a person feels intense financial distress they can become irrational and full of desperation, leading to desperate decisions which only makes their stressful situation worse.

Here’s what Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at New York University said about how the brain functions in high stress situations during a recession. “Survival depends on the ability of an organism to respond to threat or reward and predict the circumstances under which they are likely to occur. The emotional brain is highly attuned to signs of potential danger.” Since survival is more than the basics it’s important to take aggressive action to meet both the physical and psychological needs within a family.

How can a family break out of being stuck in Survival Mode?

First they have to identify the facts of their situation, and then balance their feelings against the facts. Let me explain how it works.

Identify your FINANCIAL status then identify your FEELING status
For an honest awareness of your actual status, (FACTS)

When considering your financial situation, consider both your actual financial level and then the actual circumstances of your lifestyle. I suggest considering this on 3 different levels- Survival, Stability and Security. This way you will be able to cross reference between your finances and feelings to know how to accurately respond.

(Circle any of these lifestyle factors that apply to your current situation to gain a realistic picture of your overall situation)


Financial functioning with just the basics of food, clean water, shelter, clothing, utilities, housing, safe place to sleep, proper hygiene products, public education, public transportation, public assistance, community health care, banking through money order or cash advance, no savings, no emergency fund, no cable television, no vacations or entertainment choices, no health insurance, no life insurance, no retirement, basic phone/911 service, significant debt with likely poor credit score or tax problems, minimal wardrobe with few choices of clothes and shoes, used furniture, used appliances and used cars are the norm.


Financial flexibility with access to multiple professional services, owns home, cable television, high-speed internet, occasional vacations, occasional travel, moderate holidays, prescription medicine, dental care, optical care, dependable/safe car, gasoline, car insurance, multiple cars, health insurance, professional CPA /accounting services, lawn care, dry-cleaners, regular car maintenance, new furniture, new appliances, new clothes/shoes, new technology, access to home repair services, private education for parents and kids, home alarm systems, smart cell phones, multiple phone lines, (cell phone, land phone, fax, or home based toll-free), access to storage units to maintain their growing possessions, access to multiple entertainment experiences (professional sporting events, live music concerts, theme parks), occasional dining out, modern wardrobe with many clothing and shoe choices, professional hair-cuts, access to participate in team sports, basic retirement plan in place, health club membership, savings accounts, checking accounts, regular vet care for pets, regular medical care for family members, fully funded 6 month emergency fund, access to college and continuing education, plus all of the categories from the Survival level.


Financial freedom as evidenced by access to many choices and options, multiple new cars, fully funded retirement, fully funded IRA, extensive stock portfolio, PPO health insurance, frequent travel, regular vacations, extensive holidays, golf/tennis country club memberships, recreation vehicles, (motor coaches, boats, motorcycles, ultra-lights, wave-runners, 4 wheelers, planes), multiple homes or rental properties in real estate portfolio, vacation homes, personal tailors, personal assistants, exclusive private education, legacy protected through extensive estate planning and funded insurance or financial trusts, access to frequent dining and entertainment experiences, (at the highest level this would include attending major events like the Super Bowl, Olympics, World Cup, major concerts, going backstage at Broadway plays) plus all of the categories from the Stability level.

Life is like the stock market

I believe people flow through these 3 stages throughout life on a regular basis because no one is perfectly financially secure all of the time. Learn to view them more like a stock market report that goes up one day and down the next. It changes many times based on the circumstances on any given day and a wise investor knows not to panic but to trust the process. Life goes up and down, in fact Jesus taught that life would get tough but that we would never be alone in the process if we had faith, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I overcame the world.” (John 16:33)

Life flows- it doesn’t stay fixed at one particular level all the time. Since it ebbs and flows a healthy family has to learn how to flow with it between these three levels so that their mood can stay healthy and balanced no matter which level they may be on during a given day.

I’ve met people who were incredibly financially secure when you considered their portfolio on paper, yet who didn’t feel emotionally secure at all. Finances and feelings often don’t match and when they don’t people can quickly turn to panic. Listen to what author Orison Swett Marden said about this, “Our destiny changes with our thoughts; we shall become what we wish to become, do what we wish to do, when our habitual thoughts correspond with our desires.” Literally what we believe about money will affect our moods.

When a family feel stuck in survival mode they frequently don’t believe they can change because they feel trapped in a downward debt spiral which could end up in bankruptcy, homelessness and complete financial ruin if all of their resources are depleted. Yet this disaster mindset often isn’t based in the reality of what is happening that day, but in the anxiety about the worst case scenario unfolding in the future. It is a completely one-sided point of view that only considers the worst that could happen without considering that anything good could happen to offset the bad.

Moving from Panic to Peace

To break out of the survival mode a family has to break out of being focused on the financial pressure, which only brings panic; to turn and focus on faith in a better day, which brings peace.

Often these fearful emotions aren’t shared equally with the whole family, because the entire emotional load is frequently carried by only one spouse or parent who hides it from their partner and the rest of the family. The pressure often can become unbearable on this person, leading to feelings of failure, shame or embarrassment along with stress related disorders or depression which takes a complicated situation and makes it much worse for them and for the rest of their family.

God never designed for one person to carry the whole load of a family- no one is that strong. Rather, we need to share the burdens with the entire family so that one person doesn’t get burned out trying to carry the entire load alone. (Remember the classic television show “the Walton’s” about a depression era family who always pulled together and got stronger when facing financial challenges… that’s a lot different than many families today who seem pull apart from stress when facing financial pressure).

Another factor to consider is that every person reading this is a member of 1 of the 4 financial levels represented in the US. Once you identify your financial level, (more of the facts), then you can move forward to tackle your fears and frustrations, (the feelings), in a realistic way.

Average income levels in the United States:

___ Wealthy -$259,706 & above

___ Upper middle - $74,700 to 259,706

___ Working - $46,700 to 74,700

___ Poor - $20,200 to 46,700

These income levels came from a 5 year project conducted by researchers at Harvard College & Duke University and later published in a book called "Building a Better America.” They found out more than just income because they asked a lot of questions about what that income level actually represented in terms of lifestyle.

So what does this mean to a family feeling financially pressured? Let’s go back to the FACTS to find out. If a family is in the middle to upper income range with access to retirement funds or lines of credit and someone in the family lose a job or has a car in need of a major repair it’s not a crisis, it’s an inconvenience.

However, if a person from the working class has the need for a major car repair and they miss even 1 paycheck they could be facing a major crisis because there simply are not funds or lines of credit to solve the problem. So they have to park the car and save to repair the car another day.

It would seem that a wealthy person would always feel financially secure, but that’s not the case based on the number of people from upper income neighborhoods who have resorted to self-destructive behavior during recent years as the great recession slowed our nation’s economy to a grinding halt. Oddly enough many people with great financial reserves and very comfortable lifestyles reacted in a panic mode that would have suggested they were about to become homeless, when in fact they were only having to shift to a different level of lifestyle because of a change in finances.

Money affects Mood

You have likely seen when someone feels financially confident how they spend more than they should and ignore the reality of their total financial situation especially if they don’t live on a budget. The same holds true when someone feels financially insecure and shifts into panic mode making things seem worse than they really are.

How to stay emotionally secure when life has panic, problems, nuisances and crisis events? Remember that crisis reveals what you believe about yourself and your situation. If a financial setback occurs it can create an opportunity for radical change which can be for the good if a family learns to pull through it together, instead of pulling each other apart.

A great example of this is author and financial coach Dave Ramsey, who faced a complete financial meltdown with the strength of his faith and family. Listening to his story of how his family ate beans and rice for a few years while rebuilding financial stability is inspirational to anyone facing tough financial circumstances. (Learn more about how this family pulled together during some really tough financial times at www.DaveRamsey.com)

Learning to balance your actual finances, (income level) with your feelings, (emotional level) will guide you toward getting out of the mindset of believing your life is over because of struggling with cash-flow.

They aren’t going to Eat You

No one is going to kill you if you can’t pay all of your bills on time, but self-destructive behavior can ruin everything. Creditors aren’t allowed by law to harass you and my hope is that you and your family will learn to see the many options you have when facing a financially tough time and not fall apart in the process. Consider the words of author Dale Carnegie who said, “Do you remember the things you were worrying about a year ago? Didn't you waste a lot of fruitless energy on account of most of them? Didn't most of them turn out all right after all?”

People stuck in survival mode can’t see the long view that things usually do turn out better in time, so I recommend they focus on a 24/7 model of coping in tough times. Basically you think about what you need to focus on for the next 24 hours over the next 7 days and don’t worry about things outside of that time frame. Yes, I know this will fly in the face of what Forbes magazine tells you to do about your long term retirement planning, but in a financial crisis you don’t have enough emotional energy to fight battles today while worrying about twenty years from now.

Worst of Times can often lead to the Best of Times

Remember that tough financial times can actually help a family identify their priorities a lot faster than any other time and these challenges can lead to remarkable personal development. For instance consider both sides of this situation to gain perspective. When facing financial pressure do you and your family focus on:

Cash Flow or Character?

Net Worth or Self-worth?

Consumerism or Contentment?

Pity/Panic or Peace?

Feeling insecure or Secure in faith?

Fearful or “Faith-full?”

Self-provision or God provision?

Workaholism or Worship?

Escape reality or Facing reality?

Financial failure or Financial student?

Greedy/Self focus or Generous/Serve focus?

As you can see there are many ways to look at a financial tough time, but it’s been my experience that a wise person learns to see beyond dollars to develop the real issues of their character and soul. Robert Schuller said it well, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” To break out of financial survival mode you have to know what you believe and then let the pressure push you deeper in those beliefs to become who you were meant to become. The toughest of times can actually become the best of times when you and your family develop these core values.

Here are the rapid ways to break out of Survival mode:

1. Share Burdens. You are not in this alone and there are others struggling with the same issues. Reach out and talk through the financial pressure because it will take a ton of pressure off and prevent emotional burnout.

2. Supports. Find support through your church, from extended family, from financial support groups in your community and basically any other place you can find. The more pressure on you, the more you need supports around you to manage that pressure.

3. Skills to cope. Journaling is essential to get out of the survival mode. Writing out your fears and frustrations will reduce pressure. Listen to positive music, take a yoga class, practice meditation, read biographies of people who made it through tough times, exercise and especially stay disciplined about getting enough sleep because exhausted people become emotionally frazzled faster. Learn to do all you can for the day and then go to bed and rest up to face another day with God’s help.

4. Systems. Develop routines for your family to manage tough times. This could be as simple as developing a grocery list to having family meetings about the home budget or setting a pattern to follow when facing unexpected medical expenses or costly repairs.

5. Strategy. One of my favorite sayings during tough times is “You always have options,” because it’s true. You can always call your creditors, you can call a hotline, you can sit in the floor and cry to release pressure or you can go out and look for a part time job for extra income. To develop strategies is to get a legal pad out and aggressively list every option. You will be surprised at how many strategies there are in tough situations when you can creatively list them out. And the more options you see, the more confidence you will feel.

6. Scripture. Study biblical principles that protect your mood, (here are some of my favorite sections of scripture which I repeated hour by hour through some of the toughest times of my life to stay focused and not afraid - “God will keep you in perfect peace when you keep your thoughts focused on Him.” “Cast all your anxiety on God because he cares for you.” “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” “Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed because I am your God.”) I’m not sure what your favorite verses are, but memorizing short sections to meditate on continually throughout the day will give you new spiritual strength. (Side note- this strategy isn’t about a particular religious view, it’s about developing deeper faith. Since it’s impossible to get through tough times without faith it’s essential to know what you believe if you are going to break out of the survival mode)

Never Alone on the Journey

Don’t forget, no matter which financial level you are at you are not alone. Millions of families are feeling stuck in survival mode and they are making it, and you can too. You are not a failure if you are facing tough financial circumstances, but you do have to take bold action to make some positive changes in your life. However if you wait and wait you can experience more pain and embarrassment. Better to be proactive to move from the survival mode over to stability by making calls and asking for help.

Facing tough times isn’t just limited to this generation because thousands of years ago the Apostle Paul wrote Timothy these words of wisdom to use in building deeper faith when facing financial pressure.

“A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:6-19 in the Message)

Getting Past the Pride

False pride prevents a lot of people from asking for help, which is odd since many people who literally would give you the shirt off their back if you were struggling financially are embarrassed to reach out and ask for help from others. Reverse pride is still a major roadblock for families, and especially when they may have been at a very stable or secure level in the past and now are stuck in survival mode.

My challenge to people stuck by false pride is to get over it and reach out to some of the wonderful agencies and organizations designed to help in situations just like the one you may be facing. Pharmacies have discount programs, doctors have payment plans and everyone will work with you if you reach out honestly get past your pride to explain your situation.

A practical bottom line to begin this process of moving from financial survival mode to a more stable place is to aggressively work together to save money in key areas like groceries, cell phones and medicine. Here are some links to get you started in your search to gain financial stability by accessing the many values available online.

Big Savings on grocery products

www.smartsource. com

Savings on prescriptions

http://www.internetdrugcoupons.com/ http://www.prescriptiondrugs.com/
http://www.yourrxdiscounts.com/ http://www.nextag.com/ http://www.reduceprescriptioncosts.com/ http://www.patientassistance.com/

(& accessing sites like www.Groupon.com for discount family entertainment)

These coupons are free and available to anyone who wants to take the time to make a grocery list, (to prevent over buying) and then map out and print coupons for those items. It may not sound like much of a savings, but the average family can pocket another $20-50 per week, ($1000 to $2500 per year) by getting creative with coupons. Every dollar saved takes pressure off of a family which moves them from the survival mode over to feeling stable. When families work together to manage financial pressure they can feel financial peace and the best part is that they did it together.

This way they are creating positive memories of making it through tough financial times as a family who pulled together instead of terrible times of watching one or both parents self-destruct and pull each other apart by spending too much time stuck in the survival mode. There is a better way… find it and deepen your faith and build a stronger family in the process.

"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2010), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005"

About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.

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