What to Do When the Sky is Falling

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Oh no! The sky is falling! Oh no! The sky is falling! — Chicken Little to the Little Red Hen

So what happens to Chicken Little? He and his pal, the Little Red Hen, decide to fetch their friends—Henny Penny, Cocky Locky and Goosey Loosey—and go tell the King that the sky is falling. Along the road they meet Foxy Loxy who says he can save the day and offers his help. Unfortunately, along the way to the king, Foxy Loxy winds up eating all the friends but not before Chicken Little escapes. So what does this tale teach us? It teaches us that we shouldn’t believe everything we are told at face value and that if we don’t get a grip our solutions to the sky falling may be worse than our original problems. Basically we ought to have faith that we can survive the sky falling and will do so if we remain calm.

It’s certainly normal to get anxious over bad financial news that may affect us. Even some freaking out is to be expected in a crisis. However, whether we continually panic, live in a constant state of generalized anxiety or numb our pain with our addictions is entirely up to us. How we respond to a life crisis is more important than the crisis itself. A concerned, confident approach to bad news, one that allows us to live as normal a life as possible, is far healthier than reacting hysterically to misfortune. Remember, any misfortune can be an opportunity for growth. If you are someone who is caught up in the jitters by recent economic news, there really is hope for your leading a calmer life.

Why do we worry?

It’s odd that we can be going along quite nicely in our lives when all of the sudden bad news about the economy can send us into a tailspin. If things were going so well for us before a financial crash why should our serenity suddenly crumble due to forces beyond our control that have nothing to do with us? Obviously some of us, perhaps those in our retirement years, who rely on investments probably do have something to worry about. Certainly seeing our investment savings due to workplace retirement contributions go down the tubes is no laughing matter. But none of these reasons truly explain our panic. The trick to understanding our worries is to realize that what we’re really worried about has very little to do with our present crisis.

Often we over worry because our family relationships aren’t what they could be, because we lack a spiritual practice that places value on our lives beyond our material wealth, or because we are re-experiencing a forgotten major loss in which we had no control. All of us who panic do so for reasons that go deeper than what’s in front of us. Certainly another factor that contributes to our turmoil is being bombarded by endless media hand-wringing over this crisis in our living rooms. Even when we remain calm in crisis the media tells us there is something wrong with us for not freaking out. Obviously what the media is not telling us is that higher TV ratings come with gut-wrenching news — they certainly have an investment in scaring us.

The price of over worrying

It’s the people, not the things that make us calmSome of us aren’t aware that panicking in a crisis isn’t such a good idea. Some of us may not even realize that we are living in a heightened state of anxiety. We may attribute our sleepless nights, continual irritability, and depressed moods to anything but our anxiety. In any case we pay a price — like Chicken Little and his friends — for believing that the sky is falling. If we become hysterical in a crisis we may be prone to solutions that only make our worries worse. Compulsive overworking, excessive frugality and self-neglect, isolating from trusted friends and community peers, abusing alcohol and drugs, losing faith in life meaning and adopting an every-man-for-himself mentality may in fact be our undoing, much as Foxy Loxy was with Chicken Little’s friends. In fact, our over worrying can eat us alive.

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So what’s the alternative? Taking a concerned, cool-headed, confident approach to a crisis — one that normalizes our lives while empowering us to reinforce the strengths in our lives — is really our best bet in a pinch. A good rule of thumb is that we need supportive human relationships both as an offerer and receiver if we are truly going to survive a crisis. It’s the people, not the things — like a bailout package — that make us calm. Believe it or not, loving family relationships and intimate friendships can save us from anything. If Chicken Little had just hung out with his buddies and didn’t go running to the King he would have learned that an acorn from a tree simply hit him on the head and in fact the sky was not falling. Unfortunately some of us undermine our own happiness and act just like Chicken Little.

How do we undermine our own serenity?

Some of us go to extremes in a crisis. We either put our head in the sand and pretend that there is nothing to worry about or we become glued to our TV sets hoping that some magical solution will instantly relieve us from our worries. We may fail to reflect on ourselves to even understand why we are so worried or what we can do about it. Others of us may play the helpless role and look for some magical force outside ourselves to give us all the answers and deliver us from our angst ASAP. We may be prone to blame others and push away the very people who might be able to settle us down. Even when there are obvious things we could do to calm ourselves — like taking a walk in the woods with our family, budgeting our finances more realistically, getting together with friends for a barbeque, or praying for guidance and world harmony — we just won’t do that and instead will insist that someone besides ourselves ought to make us happy. Indeed, the very act of looking outside ourselves for answers to our troubles is in itself worsening our worries. True security comes only from ourselves with the help of loved ones.

Finally, we hurt ourselves by refusing to see a life crisis as an opportunity. Some of us become defeatist, overly competitive, and paranoid when bad things happen to us. Such responses are based on the idea that external forces control our lives and we really have no control over our own destinies. If we can only blame somebody else we will not have to assume any responsibility for our own well-being. The fact is that we are solely responsible for our own happiness and we are all quite capable of making a difference in our lives no matter how bad things get. Defeatism is a cop out.

Staying sane and worrying less

Yes, putting our lifestyle on a diet in hard economic times is undoubtedly a wise thing to do. However such a tactic may only marginally reduce our worries. We need to realize that worrying in a financial crisis and setting different priorities are normal reactions. However, over worrying — where our anxiety interferes with our life functioning and relationships — is in fact aberrant. It’s best to recognize that we are indeed not dealing well with our recent crisis and realize the reasons why, have little to do with our present dilemma.

SEE ALSO  Restoring Resilience

Perhaps with the help of a trusted friend or caring professional you may identify why this current crisis is sending you through the roof. Do you see your only worth as a person to provide financially for your family? Do you feel unlovable if you have to cut back your lifestyle due to this crisis? Have you experienced similar disasters in your lifetime that altered the course of your life? Are you too easily brainwashed by the hysteria of the media? Do you lack a spiritual practice that looks at the value of your life in larger terms? Are you unworthy of your partner’s love if you cannot shield loved ones from this crisis? Would your partner still love you if you were in a financial crisis? If you lose all your material possessions would you have nothing and be unable to survive? Can you see yourself as lovable if you have nothing? These are deep questions to ponder. The answers to these questions are likely at the core of your over worrying.

Although our current economic collapse is impactful on most of us, I wonder if we’re making mountains out of molehills. Perhaps there is a good side to our present difficulty. If we’ve been laid off from work possibly we will enjoy having more time for ourselves and our children to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Possibly we might learn that a materialistic approach to life isn’t really making us happy anyway. Cooking a family meal together, learning to play a musical instrument, riding bikes to save on gas, or sharing simple time with friends and family may turn us on to life a whole lot more than our overpriced material possessions and frantic lifestyles. Let us not lose perspective. Most of the rest of the world suffers daily more than our worst day and they are often relatively happier than we are who have it so good.

Furthermore let us not forget that we humans are capable of being serene and find great meaning even in our most abject circumstances. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, wrote an awesome book, Man’s Search for Meaning on this very topic. He survived a prisoner of war camp experience and found salvation and great value in the relationships he experienced with fellow peers and prison guards as well as in his own self-exploration. His serenity throughout not only saved his life but inspired humankind to see value and possibility even in the darkest situations. After all, if one human can find meaning and peace in a concentration camp how silly are we to freak out over a stock market crash? In fact, all of us will go through many crashes in our lives — health crisis, losses of loved ones, and death itself. We may as well use our present crisis to grow and find the love and meaning we need so desperately as we face our inevitable human limitations. As we embrace our limitations we find light and joy.


John H. Driggs, L.I.C.S.W is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in St. Paul, MN and co-author of Intimacy Between Men (Penguin Books, 1990).  

This article first appeared in the November 2008 issue of The Phoenix Spirit. We may earn a commission via the links on this page – at no cost to you.

Last Updated on May 1, 2022

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