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Dithering Over Debt

erasing "debt"I’ll bet you thought you have more than enough to worry about. And now, our nation’s capital has managed to come up with something else—whether or not we’ll raise the national debt ceiling.

Never mind that the debt ceiling isn’t about new spending at all. Raising the ceiling only allows the government to pay the bills it has already incurred. Failing to raise the debt ceiling is like going on a spending spree, taking all of the stuff you bought home, then getting a bill and refusing to pay it. Failing to raise the ceiling, in effect, puts the nation in default.

No one even knows all of the ramifications of the nation going into default, but the picture isn’t pretty. Most politicians on both sides (with more than a few notable exceptions) realize that interest rates would soar, stock prices would quite possibly collapse, and the nation would lose stature throughout the world. Families would be greatly affected by these higher interest rates (as in mortgages, car loans, credit cards rates, and such) and 401K plans that for many have only recently made reasonable recoveries from the recession. Fact is, as I write this blog, the major stock indexes have been falling for days and show signs of possibly collapsing much further.

Don’t even let me get started on how we got to this point. I’ve never seen such vitriol, rancor, and flat out stubbornness at the national scene as we have now. But I digress.

The point is that our politicians have managed to fuel mounting anxiety among the populace, and even more so for people who already have one or more of the various anxiety disorders. Perhaps you’ve had some of the following types of thoughts:

  • “I can barely pay my bills now, what will happen if interest rates go up?”
  • “What will I do if the financial turmoil we’re in causes an even deeper recession and I lose my job?”
  • “I’m scared to death I’ll lose my entire retirement plan.”
  • “I feel paralyzed with fear of losing everything.”
  • “How could my parents live without their Medicare or Social Security check? I can’t afford to help them.”

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that none of these things could happen and such thoughts are indeed troubling. But it’s important to realize that uncertainty infuses day to day living both in the short term and the long run. You never know if a hurricane will blow your home away, a forest fire engulf your neighborhood, or an unexpected serious illness take hold in you or a loved one.

Yet, people have an amazing capacity to cope when bad things actually do happen. Again and again, I see people experience far more worry and anxiety over “possible” horrors lying out there on the horizon. Most of those horrors never even happen. But when they do, or when something totally unanticipated occurs, they manage to cope.

Generally speaking, people in trouble start focusing on one day at a time. They make a new game plan for each and every day. Sometimes they search for sources of help. Other times, they get creative and resourceful. In times of financial hardship, they scale back, downsize, plant gardens, sell superfluous stuff, declare bankruptcy, or even make it to a homeless shelter for a while. I won’t kid you and say such changes are easy—they’re not and they require major adjustments. But usually, you can make it through the worst of times.

For some reason, this blog reminds me about the novels Pillars of the Earth and World without End by Ken Follett. My final piece of advice is to read them and see if they put things in perspective for you. And please don’t think I’m being flippant. The message I’m trying to convey is that even with major changes in lifestyle, people can manage.

Dithering Over Debt

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2011). Dithering Over Debt. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Jul 2011
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