(WASHINGTON) -- As the U.S. government inches closer to defaulting, the debt cliffhanger is leaving millions of Americans wondering if the country is turning a corner to a less-solid future.
"A lot of stabilizing, rock-solid foundations are being threatened," says Dr. James Gottfurcht, a clinical psychologist and president of Psychology of Money Consultants in Los Angeles.
He compares the events in Washington to the reaction California residents have to an earthquake.
"The feeling that clients talk about when the earth is shaking, with terra firma crumbling -- this is like a financial tremor or earthquake," he says.
The crisis particularly affects people who have experienced financial stress in their growing-up years and deeply fear fiscal uncertainty, he adds. But ironically, the highly affluent can be more stressed than ordinary middle-class people because their self-esteem is tied to the health of their bank accounts.
Georgette Ryan, 44, from Nashua, New Hampshire, is not among the highly affluent, but she is so stressed by the debt crisis that she has stopped watching the news. She is a single mom whose 23-year-old daughter -- a part-time bus monitor -- 13-year-old son and grandchild live with her. Ryan gets a disability check because she has fibromyalgia and also receives Medicaid.
"Everyday, I wonder about that," she says, because New Hampshire is cutting back.
Kathy Vitale, 60, a retired nurse in Bristol, Pennsylvania, is so anxious that she's upped her sleeping pill dosage even though her doctor told her not to get upset about politics.
Vitale has Crohn's disease and her daughter Jami, 36, has colitis. Both receive Social Security disability. Kathy Vitale's husband has a job with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, but she says her $700 monthly disability check is crucial for paying the mortgage.
"If they stop my cash flow, we'll lose our home," she says.
"There's a sense of helplessness," says Dr. Stephen Josephson, a psychologist who is clinical assistant professor at Cornell University Medical School. "Most people don't have a lot of faith in politicians."
But Josephson says that just as with more personal anxieties, people might want to consider re-directing their attention away from the anxiety source that the debt crisis has become.
Label it and shift your attention, he suggests. Control what you can, says Josephson, and accept the fact that you can't control the debt ceiling.
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