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Coping With Stress in Rough Economic Times

By Sandra Derks, LCPC, CADC, CCJP

News of our struggling economy is everywhere. It is becoming increasingly difficult to listen to the news without hearing of more companies laying off workers, drive down the street without seeing stores or restaurants that have closed their doors, or to not know someone who is out of work. Job loss, business failures and home foreclosures are overwhelmingly common right now. Yet, the impact of these life events remains unchanged. They often produce overwhelming stress.

The current economic shift also presents a unique and unchartered stressor—a challenge to sex role expectations. The greater proportion of workers losing jobs are men. For both men and women this shift adds additional stress. More and more women are becoming the primary bread winners for their families, while men find themselves needing to depend on women for financial security. These shifting roles add a new layer of economic stress.

The body’s stress response is usually self regulating; however, the significance of these stressors--in addition to the usual stressors of daily life--can trigger a person to constantly feel on edge or overwhelmed. If these feelings persist, the chronic physiological reaction can lead to both physical and mental health risks including: heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive problems, depression, generalized anxiety, obesity, memory impairment, and skin problems.

Oftentimes, stress symptoms leading to these health risks go unnoticed as they mimic symptoms of other problems. Although stress itself cannot be a cause of death, it can create debilitating and even life- threatening symptoms. There are some important physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral, symptoms to recognize and take steps to manage:

Physical Cognitive Emotional Behavioral
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Pounding heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle aches
  • Back pain
  • Clenched jaws
  • Tooth grinding
  • Stomach upset
  • Digestive problems
  • Tiredness
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Sex problems
  • Skin problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Memory lapses
  • Impaired attention span
  • Disorientation
  • Elevated alertness
  • Impaired decision making
  • Re-occuring/racing thoughts
  • Poor judgement
  • Restlessness
  • Worrying
  • Irritability
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Sadness
  • Increased anger
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling insecure
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Resentment
  • Guilt
  • Inferiority
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Overeating
  • Under-eating
  • Increased drinking
  • Angry outbursts
  • Incrased smoking
  • Drug use/abuse
  • Social withdrawal
  • Crying spells
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Decreased productivty
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Blaming others
  • Incrased or decreased sleeping
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities


For those of us working in helping professions in these times, we need to be aware of stress as an underlying cause of presenting symptoms. Whether a patient has been directly or indirectly impacted by the current economic turmoil, the stress of this economic uncertainty may be affecting their health. The true sources of stress may not always be obvious, especially the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that might be contributing to overwhelming stress. Providing a comprehensive assessment of any symptoms will give more accurate information on current stressors. Treatment needs to include building healthy stress management through enhanced self caretaking, boundary setting and relaxation
development. These stress management skills include:

Self-Caretaking Boundary Setting Relaxation
  • Healthy eating
  • Exercise regularly
  • Journal writing
  • Do something you like everyday
  • Structure time
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and drugs
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar
  • Challenging oneself to focus on good news stories
  • Shut off the television, radio, or computer to control the influx of bad news
  • If there is a particular news story that is particularly upsetting, avoid hearing information on it
  • Recognize life factors that one has control over, as well as those they don't
  • Move toward friends and family that are positive and supportive, and move away from those that are negative or unsupportive
  • Challenge/interrupt negative and rigid thought patterns
  • Practice relaxation techniques that produce the relaxation response (e.g., progressive relaxation, imagery, though distraction)
  • Identify activities one finds relaxing and buld into daily schedule (e.g., reading, taking a walk, taking a bath, spending time in nature, enjoying a pet, etc.)
  • Set aside relaxation time
  • Take charge of thoughts and emotions

We also need to be aware of the potential meaning of the resurgence of symptoms in these economic times. A person recovering from addiction who seems to suddenly relapse may be struggling with the shame of new financial instability. They may be struggling with sharing this openly, even with us, their trusted therapist. The anxious person may appear to suddenly be regressing with overpowering negative self-talk. This regression may be plagued with “should” messages such as “You should be the man of the
house...” No matter where a person is in their psychological journey, the impact of this economy can have devastating effects on one’s sense of self. As treatment providers, we can serve our community best by talking openly about these economic times and assisting with connections to the appropriate level of care to bring the stress back to a manageable level.

Our office managers at Arbor Counseling Center are available directly at (847) 913-0393 to schedule appointments and answer questions. Visit us on the web at www.arborcounselingcenter.com for more information about our therapists and services.