What is Recession?
There are lots of ways to answer this question. Per Bloomberg, the risk of Pakistan falling into a recession stands at 70%. A recession is what we call an economy that is, for a consistent period of time, growing weaker. We happen to define ‘weaker’ by the value of what we produce and set the minimum time to cry wolf as six consecutive months of economic slowing. But whilst recessions begin with economics, they never end there, spilling far past the space and time given by their definitions. They impact our collective psyche, making the present harder to survive and the future harder to envision. Losses fall across entire nations but they do not fall equally, consistently weighing on the backs of the most vulnerable, amongst them the disabled, the isolated, and the poor. In this article we present an image of what recession can look like for ordinary people, and, where possible, measures we can take to protect ourselves and one another.
Fundamentally, recessions leave us more exposed to the blows of fate. Our material, social, and inner lives become governed by forces we can hardly understand, let alone control, and that feeling of insecurity – in the sense that nothing is protected – is powerful. The sustained sense that our life structure might be upturned overnight keeps us from feeling safe even in spaces, work, and relations that have become familiar to us. In periods of upheaval, a landlord can repossess your home without warning; a company can fire entire teams at once; and ordinary needs like dinner can become question marks. These risks, shadowing us from somewhere beyond here and now, make it impossible to feel secure.
Major shocks to our life, unsurprisingly, leave us “more prone to mental ill-health”, but even the steady threat that they might occur leaves us more exposed to depression, and anxiety. Studies show that “increased incidence of anxiety and mood disorders” “we’re strongly associated with drops in household incomes”. Overtime, fearing for our jobs affects who we are, with an Australian report revealing, worryingly, that those who experience chronic job insecurity change in important ways, becoming “more depressed and neurotic, and less agreeable and conscientious.” Even where our health doesn’t visibly suffer, to combat job fears many people throw themselves into overwork.
Permanent workers in “good” jobs can keep their heads down and just try to make it through the hard years, but those in unprotected employment, some of whom were potentially already against the wall in terms of affording their lives, don’t have that luxury. They are that much more likely to accept more work outside of what is manageable, and indeed what is fair. Between zero-hour contracts, gig jobs, and the very human desperation that springs from chronic fear, the economically vulnerable stack up income streams to protect themselves, often in the process of giving up rest, routine, and often, time with their loved ones. Precarity in our financial lives bleeds into our social spaces. We have less time to give, and that time becomes laced with uncertainty; it’s all too easy to turn to instant fixes: repression, drugs, and solitude.
What begins as an easy escape from the trials of the day can lead to deeper problems, and indeed, substance abuse and even suicidal behavior have been linked to economic downturns. Meanwhile, with less time and money to spend on those around us are more tempted to isolate ourselves from the people we need and the things that matter. “Economic pressure and unemployment can have a devastating impact on families, in particular, children”, whose parents are, in recessions, less present, less happy, and less healthy. This is troubling as is, without touching on what is going on in the hearts of those hordes of lonely adults who live in spaces of inadequacy, precarity, and even shame. A bleak picture, right? Yet we’ve survived recessions before, and as is often the case with moments of collective hardship, economic atrophy has often been the site of beautiful instances of innovation, support, and community. Whether or not recession does hit Pakistan, there will be (there already are) losses; some will feel them more than others. But their force can be weakened in a number of ways. Here’s Ping Up’s guide to surviving a recession, no matter who you are.
- Check on your friends. If you notice something is off, trust your instincts and make sure the people you love are alright, and that if they’re not, they have someone to speak to.
- Plan ahead. So much can be saved with a little planning. There is a price to pay for doing things last minute; don’t pay it.
- Take care of your employees. Take care of the people who help you in your home. Offer security where possible and treat them as more than numbers on your monthly budget. When the downturn is coupled with rising prices (as it is currently in Pakistan), offer fuel allowances. Offer to carpool. Remember that the people who make your life easier have lives, loves, and fears of their own.
- Parents, be honest with your children. Tell them what you’re afraid of, and why you might have less time in the months to come. As much as we want to take care of the little people in our lives, they want to care for us too, and we often forget how much empathy they have when we trust them to hear what we’re feeling.
- Save carefully. Inflation is high. Protect your savings from losing their real value. The only way to do that is to invest in something that ‘beats’ inflation.
- Keep an emergency fund; rainy days come more often in periods of recession. Keep some money aside in case (God forbid) you or your loved ones come across one.
- Speak to one another. Our society has a tendency to encourage leaving our problems at home and polishing our facades for those who walk by even when there’s real damage beneath that surface.
- There’s no strength in isolation, whereas when we speak to one another and share our fears, we build connections and dependencies that make us stronger, and leave us better protected. Nurture those connections.