From the March 2009 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

The Advisor's Toolkit for Client Stress Management and Positive Aging

The cataclysmic financial changes in our economy have pushed many people into what I call their "primitive survival mode," or stress mode. Couples who haven't fully resolved their power struggles about money (and/or other things) may polarize even more dramatically and attack each other virulently for their differences.

During this major transition, spouses who are unwilling to challenge their own biases and see aspects of the other's worldview may need professional help to move from conflict to compromise and mutual respect. Only a couple with deep and abiding goodwill can be expected to sit down together, assess their goals, needs, and desires, and hatch a plan (hopefully with your expert help and respectful, patient listening) to make changes that will let them move forward together. In this kind of "no-fault love" relationship, both partners are willing to take steps toward the middle in order to enjoy their lives in sync with each other.

Even so, the uncertainty of entering a new phase of life, coupled with the anxiety of today's unprecedented economic upheaval, add up to tension that you may need to address before a couple is ready to rationally discuss retirement matters. I recommend preparing a "toolkit" to help them with stress management and positive aging.

It might include these suggestions:

o Write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal.

o Consider meditation to relieve anxiety and increase feelings of well-being.

o Don't put off getting the exercise you need.

o Find ways to connect more deeply with your inner self, family, friends, the wider community, and/or your own spirituality.

o Enjoy beauty in whatever way moves you.

o Create something: a painting, a poem, a garden, a song.

o Instill more humor and lightness in your life.

o Begin an "ethical will" in which you write down, or audio- or videotape, the

emotional legacy of your life that you want to leave to your loved ones.

o Anchor yourself in gratitude for your blessings. Keep a daily gratitude journal.

o For clients who are retired or planning to retire, I would add another "tool": learn new skills, such as speaking a new language or playing a musical instrument, to keep your brain agile.

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