I’ve lived through three very down economies so far in the United States (not including this one). There were the 70s, with Vietnam ending, protests, the gas lines, rallying cries of “Buy American!”, glares at people who drove foreign cars, plus gloom over the hostages and a fear of the end of life as we know it. (Who says little kids don’t pick up on things? That’s how I remember things I mostly saw only on the news, with the exception of the gas lines & the glares.)

There were the 80s, with savings and loans failing the way weeds sprout, people getting back only pennies on the dollar, foreclosures everywhere, poor lending practices, sky-high interest rates, corrupt politicians, seemingly-inexplicable stock market crashes, and fears about wars and the end of the world as we know it. (Are you sensing a theme yet?)

During that time period, I attended junior high and high school, and started college, wondering vaguely how I was ever going to get a “real job” when I graduated. (I’d had a steady job since high school, but I didn’t consider it a “real” one for some reason.) People I knew were out of work and worried, but I tried not to stress. I got married and bought my first home — a foreclosed HUD condo in a complex full of foreclosed condos, in a neighborhood full of foreclosed houses. We got about a 10% interest rate on it — an excellent rate — but everyone I knew warned against buying it due to “the economy”. It turned out fine.

Then there was 2000-2001, with the dot com bust, stock market crashes, corrupt businesspeople, rampant unemployment, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, terror alerts, cries of it being our patriotic duty to spend spend spend, wars, flag-waving and fears about everything under the sun. I lost my job and was unemployed for long after the (extended twice I think) unemployment benefits ran out. I made an effort not to worry about things I could not control, and focused instead on starting a business and getting through a divorce. The business wasn’t successful, but I managed. I learned to live below my (very small) means, to prioritize, and to look for new opportunities and things to enjoy.

Now it’s 2008-2009, and we’re back to banks failing, unemployment increasing, wars still continuing, interest rates dropping, foreclosures everywhere, stimulus packages, and a stock market chart that looks like a 3-year-old’s manic scribbling on a wall.

This has happened before, and it’ll most likely happen again. Of course this time is different. It’s always different, but it’s also always the same — with the biggest similarities being fear, anxiety and irrationality. Remember to focus on what you can control. Look at your own life. Maybe “the economy” is in a shambles, but do you have enough to eat today? Or maybe your individual life hasn’t really changed at all — maybe you’re just afraid it will. Or maybe it has changed dramatically. You’ll get through it.

Look for new opportunities. Try to be rational and calm, while recognizing that others may not be. Take comfort in the past, and focus on what you as an individual can do. You might even end up prospering, or learning things about yourself that will give you new confidence and strength.