Alleviating AFSS: Acute Financial Stress Syndrome

Feeling blue

For a few weeks recently, I woke up every day with a headache, body ache, slight fever, sinus congestion, acid reflux and inability to concentrate on anything for long. Why this was happening was a miserable mystery. There was no need for all these symptoms of physical illness to arise simultaneously as my health is otherwise good.

I then realised that I was downcast because of a rather nasty professional setback a few weeks ago where my idea of self-reliance took a jolt.

Several years ago I had dropped out of corporate life that I had been part of for many years, because I didn’t like being part of large corporations. Recently, after several years of struggling to keep myself afloat financially, I got a six month consultancy contract with a large company. Unused to the messy corporate culture that I became part of and the incompetent people I had to deal with within a month, my nerves began to fray, and I questioned my own staying power, but I justified my continued stay because I was in it for the money. I needed money. When my exasperation about dealing with unprofessional personnel began to show, the company questioned my professional proficiency, and it was considered better for both the company and I to curtail the association.

Waves of misgivings and uncertainties washed over me as if I was adrift in a turbulent sea, since terminating this contract meant losing six months of assured earnings; an assured income for six months meant a lot to me as I lived on very little money due to not having a regular source of income for several years.

So I decided to make myself my own project to restore my confidence. I objectively weeded out my inner critic and began to explore myself and took a self esteem inventory and tried to define myself.

My exploration of the self revealed to me that I am by and large self-possessed and self-assured. I am not usually filled with doubts and self criticism about myself and my abilities, yet at the same time I am by temperament a self-conscious, self-effacing, introvert who is not always comfortable in social situations and prefers being on my own. And though I am not ambitious for wealth or position and I am generally diffident and non-confrontational, I found that I do not lack confidence or self-esteem, nor was I incompetent or a pushover, which is a conclusion that some new social or professional contacts may arrive at about me after a casual interaction.

In fact, I do not think that I am not intelligent. And I do know that some of my abilities are not commonplace. Everyone does not have the ability, for ‘empathy’, ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’, which may not sound like a big deal, but if one thinks about it, it is. Not that my professional abilities such as ‘commercial writing’ or writing about ideas is widespread or commonplace either. Writing with simplicity and clarity on commission for a purpose, is possible because of my extensive experience in working for small and large companies, my broad knowledge base, and my wide perspective and thinking skills.

And so I concluded that my despondency and physical symptoms of distress did not arise as much from self doubt, or doubt about my professional proficiency, or my personality perceptions; these could be dismissed as temporary ego injuries. And the symptoms of headache, body ache, slight fever, acid reflux and sinus congestion and inability to concentrate on anything for long were caused by anxiety over something else.

Yes, it was anxiety that was triggering these symptoms. I was worried about my future and feared that my present deficient economic situation may recur or continue for even longer than it has. I worried excessively about money and work, or lack of work that pays, and incessantly imagined and anticipated disastrous situations like not getting work in the future and therefore not being able to pay for basic necessities. Also, the symptoms were triggered in my own disappointment over not being able to spend the money that I had anticipated earning for six whole months, which had given me ideas and dreams of how I would spend the money; like giving a certain amount every month to pay for the sterilisation of dogs in my neighbourhood; support some environmental groups that i am a member of; pay the subscription to some journals and newsletters that I like and which need subscription support; give some money to some of the causes I believe in and support; getting repairs and painting done at home, and for meeting other mundane expenditure.

I concluded that the ailments that I suffered from over the last few weeks were due to anxiety and stress about my fiscal situation, my earning ability; my ability to stay solvent. I call this AFSS, Acute Financial Stress Syndrome. I called it a ‘Syndrome’ because of the cluster of symptoms that occurred at the same time to mark my period of stress and anxiety.

So how did I get out of the AFSS, what did I do to alleviate myself from AFSS?

Well, I thought about my condition, and tried to rationalise the symptoms and I realised that the questioning of my professional competence by a source that was not qualified to do so was not the problem, that may have been a light slap to my ego but it may have set off the low mood swing. The real problem was the imminent curtailment of future earnings. This is what caused the anxiety and stress and all the manifestations of so many physical symptoms.

I trained myself to manage my fears by figuring out what the cause was, I explored myself; took a self-esteem inventory to define myself, and by journaling – writing about it. I tried to focus on the positive and I tried to take control of my emotions. This has helped and has made a difference, because most of the physical symptoms, the headaches and acid reflux have reduced and have almost disappeared and I can now concentrate well enough to write again.

So what guarantee is there that this will not happen again? There is no guarantee, AFSS has been happening to me off and on for years but not to this degree, so as long as there is financial uncertainty there will be AFSS. But the methods I used to overcome this sort of depression worked and will work again. On the bright side, AFSS the tongue-in-cheek neologism that I have coined seems ripe for entry to a psychology phrase book.

Pratap Antony is a Passive activist. Active pacifist freelance thinker and writer. Writes on an array of subjects: ecology and environment, social justice and pluralism, management ideas and issues. Music: western classical, jazz, and Indian classical dance.


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