GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 20, 2013

How to combat stress in recessionary times

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — Despite some indications that the country is pulling out of the recession — corporations are making billions of dollars from their overseas operations — there are discouraging signs that our economic troubles are not yet over.

All around the region, people are still coping with loss of jobs, factory and facility closings, low minimum wage rates; a still slowly recovering housing market; cutbacks in government spending as a result of the sequestration; and worries over personal finances such as the high costs of a college education and meeting mortgage payments. All this, plus increasing anxiety and uncertainty about the impact of the explosive situation in the Middle East on our economy. As they go about their daily routine, individuals must deal with the personal, practical, and emotional issues that come with a difficult economy. Some are handling the stress successfully while others are not doing well at all.

Gloria Nouri, former director of Behavior Modification and Stress Management for the New Jersey Department of Corrections, says the overwhelming majority of people don’t simply adapt to rough financial times and go on. Most individuals are showing at least some signs of stress as a result of today’s recessionary times.

“Sometimes they drive too fast; sometimes they argue more; sometimes they become more withdrawn and worried,” Nouri explains. “Occasionally, they take chances that lead to legal or ethical trouble.”

Many personal relationships are being stressed by the poor economy, Nouri believes. “Roommates are being told, ‘I’m sorry, but you will have to leave, You’re not paying your share, and I can’t afford to pay it anymore.’ Other family situations are being completely changed by the return of older children who can’t support themselves, or by the addition of elderly or sick relatives who need continual care that isn’t affordable elsewhere.”

Children are particularly affected by the strain that comes in difficult economic times. “I’ve seen enormous changes in the attitudes of children from all areas: white collar, blue collar, and in-between. Children’s total behavior patterns are affected by their families’ reactions to money problems,” Nouri points out.

Children may express their own concern over family finances by worrying excessively, getting into trouble at school, running away, or becoming monosyllabic in their communication. They may have more nightmares or be uncooperative. They may become depressed or feel cheated because the family budget can’t afford a class ring or prom gown, school field trip, or the car promised at graduation.

The impact of stress on adults can be even more severe. “Their minds and bodies and environment are all being affected,” Nouri explains. “Some are turning to alcohol or drugs. Others show a complete change in disposition, and take out their worries about paying the mortgage on family, friends, and co-workers. The healthiest ones recognize the stress, then put one foot in front of the other to do what they can about it.”

Being confident and positive is the best way to combat stress: “I tell myself that the more it hurts, the louder I’ll whistle.”

The path to dealing with stress in tough financial times is filled with “little, tiny, baby steps — not giant ones,” Nouri explains. “People can’t necessarily fix the economy, but they can — slowly — modify their own behavior, change their expectations, and manage and control the stress they feel.”

How can you combat your own recessionary stress? Here are Nouri’s recommendations:

Make separate lists of your values, goals, flaws, and frustrations. Then, make lists of what you’re going to do to enhance or improve (“not fix”) them.

Follow this with lists of what you can “surrender” ( change or give up). Use what you find out to help you take action.

Talk with a trusted friend (with fewer problems than you.) Follow this by talking with a spiritual leader, if desired, or with an accountant, lawyer, counselor or other relevant professional, if needed.

I would also include 5-minute daily relaxation exercises: picture yourself in a calm, favorite environment experiencing it with all your senses while consciously relaxing all the muscles in each part of your body. Regular, daily, relaxation sessions can strengthen your emotional resiliency by reducing tensions in the body and mind.

Based in Rockport, psychotherapist and life coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at susanbritt1@verizon.net or 978-546-9431.