Lies, truth and the middle ground  

The generation that went through a depression, two world wars and numerous recessions must be scratching their silvery heads at how easily our psychological equilibrium can be tilted.


The generation that went through a depression, two world wars and numerous recessions must be scratching their silvery heads at how easily our psychological equilibrium can be tilted.

The generation that went through a depression, two world wars and numerous recessions must be scratching their silvery heads at how easily our psychological equilibrium can be tilted.

We are a fragile bunch. Little things like pig colds, having to forgo flatscreen TVs and wondering whether England’s batting line-up can deliver the goods against the Aussies in the Ashes all seem to send us into a collective tailspin.

Certainly, the sort of character who took pride in saying they’ve ‘never taken a day off sick’ is increasingly rare. According to a survey by YouGov, half of British workers are feeling more stressed than they were a year ago.

Back in 2007-08, 13.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress. With 50 per cent more employees reporting higher stress levels, that figure could top 20 million, claims consultancy firm Croner, which commissioned the survey. The cause of this stress is the perennial enemy of blood pressure: money. Or, to be more exact, work (63 per cent), finances (62 per cent) and the economy (49 per cent).

The survey asked whether people feel much more stressed than 12 months ago and double the number of women say they do compared with men (18 per cent of women – almost one in five – against nine per cent of men). And while stress levels are broadly similar across all age ranges, those aged between 45 and 54 are feeling much more stressed than their younger and older counterparts.

The state of the world is the fourth biggest worry (29 per cent say it is a reason for their stress) and personal health concerns are fifth (22 per cent), closely followed by troublesome colleagues (21 per cent).

There will always be the standard suite of worries that prey on your mind, and the media excels at exaggeration, hyperbole and outright hysteria as it thrives, even depends, on drama. Yes, things are bad but there is a difference between being aware of the risks we face and letting them overwhelm us.

Roger Bootle, the renowned economist and MD of Capital Economics, observes that ‘people exaggerate the gloom on the downswing just as they do the optimisim on the upswing’. Indeed, knowing your history is a great way to get a sense of perspective in times like these.

‘Think of the utter despair of the late 1970s and early 1980s, followed by the celebrated “transformation of Britain” four or five years later,’ recounts Bootle. He acknowledges that current   conditions are grim as everyone cuts their cloth accordingly, but this won’t last forever, and sectors which are presently in the mire will be resurgent.

Bootle explains: ‘When recovery comes  – and you’ve got to be cautious about how strong that recovery will be – the shape of the British economy is likely to be very different from what it has been. We’re likely to see significant growth in net exports due to the lower pound, so manufacturing businesses which export directly or compete with importers in their home markets should benefit.’

Life goes on regardless. Chancellor Alistair Darling’s premature predictions about economic recovery aren’t helpful, but neither is the view that we’re all destined for the scrap heap. The truth is always somewhere in between.
 

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