Notice: this column does not intend to give medical or financial advice; consult your doctor or CPA.
The word “agita” is Italian-American slang, from the word “agitare”, a verb meaning to “agitate” or “upset”. It describes symptoms from heartburn to panic attacks, and it is the defining word of our age.
The sickness of our economy is reflected in sickness in us; it’s everywhere you look. At a recent Eastern Plumas Health Care meeting there was a discussion on how more people are accessing services, and fewer can pay for those services. Across the internet one reads stories, like this one, about how the economy is impacting health, which strains health care resources.
We are going through a period of adjustment, and adjustment is hard. While some hope for a “quick recovery” of the economy, that is unlikely. The problems facing us today dwarf the problems of the “Great Depression.” (Interesting site is HERE
One view of what’s happening is that we as a society are “adjusting.” What this means is we have to change our ways as a nation. Like a plant that has overgrown its resources, our economy is “dying back.” The housing market began the crash with frenetic growth; its decay has had a pulling effect on the economy. The nation’s over-reaction to the attacks of the early Bush years helped decimate the economy as resources were diverted from public needs to the “war” abroad and “homeland security” at home. Air traffic was stifled and is only slowly recovering. Credit card debt has been increasing as people try to maintain their standard of living on less money; as a result, banks are cutting credit back. Banks are disappearing and as with the first Great Depression, people are hoarding and spending cash.
The impact of the number of persons on the globe is another feature of the depression which is underestimated. The last Great Depression had its own ecological disaster, the Dust Bowl, which plunged already poor rural people in the mid-west into unimaginable poverty. Even so, the population of the world in 1929 was 1.8 billion; today it is over 6 billion, heading for 9 billion. The average person in the world in 1929 used more linseed oil than petroleum; today very few places on earth don’t burn oil for energy. The developing world increasingly wants its share of the resources, increasing competition with developed countries and reducing resources.
Likewise, the flu epidemic of 1918 was bad, but H1N1 could be worse, if the most dire predictions for this winter come true.
In the 80 years since Black Tuesday we’ve built a massive, fragile global economy based almost entirely on oil. The supply of oil is coming to an end even as the demand for energy is growing, and even if we suddenly had a copious supply of nearly free energy (don’t think “nuclear” think “solar”) that wouldn’t solve our problem, because so many things are made from oil, even the fertilizers that grow our corn. Much of our daily life is temporarily benefiting from the flow of cheap plastic goods from China; that won’t last forever.
Even if there were unlimited oil, we simply can’t afford the environmental costs. Global warming is poorly understood, and indeed, it might be part of a normal global cycle, but there is no way to deny the massive and growing body of evidence that burning oil is destroying our environment. It isn’t just the rising oceans and increased climactic disasters, it’s the petrochemicals in our flesh, toxins in walrus fat, the floating oceanic rafts of tar and plastic, one twice the size of Texas. The globe has grown too small.
That is reflected in law. The strategies that the common person resorted to in the Great Depression aren’t open to us, because government knows better. People used to grow and slaughter rabbits for sale. Some people served cheap meals from their kitchens. People focused on self-sufficiency, but the common things of those days could be fixed by a clever person with simple tools. Many of the things we rely on today, cell phones, computers on the desk and in the car, can’t be fixed, weren’t intended to be fixed. People found economic opportunities that today are regulated, taxed, or one way or another prohibited.
The last depression was relatively short; some sources say 1929 to 1941. This new “realignment” is likely going to take longer. Indeed, in the mid 1990s sociologists predicted such a realignment and suggested when it was over the economic life of the average person in the U.S. would more resemble the average person in Brazil.
All of this leads to, and composes, agita.
The uncertainty and fear that accompany this global state are like a contagion. Children are catching it from their parents; employees from their bosses.
Part of the problem is that a lot of people suffer in silence. Very few of us want others to know that our heart is pounding, our guts twisting, our tongue clinging to the roof of our mouths. Since few of us share with others, those suffering stress and anxiety are further isolated from family and friends.
It is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing unusual in today’s life.
What are the signs?
Agita comes in many forms, from mild indigestion and restless nights to chest gripping fear of imminent death.
Symptoms assumed to be largely emotional in nature include:
*Sweaty palms and head
*Cold feet and hands
* PVCs (premature ventricular contractions), “heart palpitations”, a benign but very upsetting thumping in the chest.
* Breathlessness or shortage of breath
(If it sounds like a heart attack, you’ll understand why emergency room visits for stress and anxiety are up)
* Muscle tension and associated pain, especially in the back, neck, jaw and chest
* Shooting pains/electric shock/numbness of arms and legs
* Stomach upset/periods of diarehha and constipation
* Chronic fatigue
* Sleep disturbances
* Cravings for sweet, fatty foods
* Crying for no reason
The current economic uncertainty and psychological distress leads to:
* Increased substance abuse
* Increased spousal and child abuse
* Increased ER visits
* Increased incarceration
The effects aren’t simply emotional; stress has very clear physiological consequences. Stress can lead to:
* Skin problems like eczema and psoriasis
* Increased likelihood of infection
* Increased susceptibility to impaired glucose tolerance (diabetes)
* Increased cholesterol
* Sexual dysfunction
* Auto-immune diseases
What can you do?
For goodness sake, relax!
Experts generally agree the following things are nearly sure fire remedies, in reverse order:
5. Mental mood: Try to be realistic; learn to let go of past status symbols and value thrift. Enjoy guarded optimism.
4. Continue to plan for the future. Don’t make big plans, but do make plans that are realistic and take advantage of your life the way it is now. If you were laid off, don’t become a couch potato, garden, volunteer.
3. Socialize! Find low cost ways to entertain, like pot luck or Bring Your Own Burger parties.
2. Meditate, do tai chi, practice yoga, pray.
1. Exercise! Dance, hike, bike, move your butt! Daily moderate exercise of 30 minutes a day greatly improves mood, and helps mitigate the sweet, fat foods and substance abuse.
The future never really comes, so don’t worry about it. A basic tenant of happiness is to live in the NOW. As a wise old person once said, “If you act like life is a race, you’re forgetting where it ends.”
Be positive. There is the very real possibility that our culture will be improved with this current hardship. We might again value thrift over conspicuous consumption, durability over novelty, and family over facebook.
Photo by Paul Larne