Mental health experts say that stress associated with economic worries can affect people in different ways.
Some people may find themselves being more irritable, anxious, lethargic or sad. Some may be unable to sleep, may eat too much or too little, or may experience physical symptoms of stress, like high blood pressure or headaches.
Others may turn to behaviors like gambling, alcohol or drug use. Often, one symptom can lead to another—anxiety can lead to sleeplessness, which can cause greater stress and so on.
There are a variety of suggested coping techniques and ways to get help, depending on the individual situation. In general, experts advise people to engage in activities that can release stress, like exercise, hobbies or socializing with friends and family. Sharing worries with people experiencing similar stress can help.
Many therapists encourage people to write down their worries and responsibilities before they go to bed, which can keep them from dwelling on them while they are trying to sleep.
They also encourage people to try to take action or make decisions in areas where they have some control, like deciding whether it is affordable to send the children to camp this summer or deciding to cut back on dinners out or other expenses. And doing what one can to address financial problems or develop new job skills can make a person feel better able to handle economic uncertainty.
“On the one hand, I’m trying to activate them to make decisions,” said Dr. Alan A. Axelson, a Pittsburgh psychiatrist who is co-chairman of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a program of American Psychiatric Foundation. “On the other hand, I’m trying to say hold on, take some time, let’s really make some good decisions.
“Differentiate between real problems and making that problem worse by complicating it with other issues, such as a destructive relationship or using alcohol and drugs. That makes it worse. I always say there’s no situation so bad that you can’t do something to make it worse," he said.
Experts recommend people who need further assistance seek help and guidance therapists, clergy members, primary care doctors, workplace counselors or other professionals.
Here are a number of Web sites with additional information:
Managing Your Stress in Tough Economic Times, from the American Psychological Association. Employee Personal Financial Distress and How Employers Can Help, from the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health of the American Psychiatric Foundation.