These days, it's nearly impossible to escape the word "recession." Even if we don't yet meet the official definition of a recession, our economy is showing many of the signs that indicate we are about to enter one -- if we aren't, for all practical purposes, already in one.

The picture looks bleak, doesn't it? The housing bubble that Wall Street's finest bankers and greedy lenders such as Countrywide Financial (NYSE: CFC) created has finally burst. Housing prices are on a downward spiral, and an abundant supply of real estate has left builders such as Pulte Homes (NYSE: PHM) wondering whether they'll ever get the chance to build again. Monstrous write-offs and tight liquidity at the likes of Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH), along with the collapse of Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC), are the stories that have moved to the center of the media's attention. Consumers are reining in their spending habits, so that even major retailers like Target (NYSE: TGT) are suffering from slowing sales. And exploding oil and food costs are tightening margins at every food establishment from Starbucks (NYSE: SBUX) to Kraft (NYSE: KFT).

It all sounds so scary. But in truth, a recession is a healthy and normal segment of our economy's cycle. It actually presents long-term investors with great opportunities. Having an optimistic outlook and buying at bargain prices before the economy begins to recover can lead to some of the greatest returns your portfolio will ever experience.

Join The Motley Fool as we help you navigate through a down market. From learning about the formations of a bubble to stocks you should be buying, this survival guide will arm you with all of the information you need to feel confident about your portfolio.

Your Recession Survival Guide:

Starbucks is a recommendation of Stock Advisor and Inside Value, and Kraft has been recommended in Income Investor. Try out any of these Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Kristin Graham and The Motley Fool both own shares of Starbucks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.