Jobless, or About to Be?

Coping tips stress the positive when the negative hits home

Holly VanScoy

Holly VanScoy

Updated on April 06, 2006

MONDAY, Oct. 8, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- After riding the crest of the "new economy" wave for almost a decade, many wage earners are seeing their jobs and financial reserves wiped out by the recent economic downturn.

And the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have made an already-bad employment situation significantly worse, particularly for airline workers and those in the travel and tourist industry.

Anxiety levels are understandably high for those who've recently lost their jobs. And stress can be equally hard on workers who fear their positions are next in line for the chopping block.

Diane Roberts Stoler, a Georgetown, Mass., psychologist in private practice who specializes in trauma therapy, says the prospect of being unemployed is often as stressful as the actual loss of a job. Both, she says, can be psychologically and physically debilitating.

"Humans have a basic need to feel safe," Stoler says. "If you don't know where your next paycheck is coming from -- or whether it will be your last one for a long while -- there's no sense of safety."

Practical concerns can paralyze even the most action-oriented among us, experts say.

"'How are we going to feed the kids? How are we going to pay the rent or house payment? How can we meet the electric and phone bills?' These are the questions we begin to fixate on when our incomes are threatened," Stoler says.

And those concerns may be just the beginning.

"People under the stress of employment loss or threatened loss can find themselves experiencing very real, seriously debilitating physical symptoms," says Jerome Greenberg, a musculoskeletal therapist and clinical nutritionist in New York City.

"They may have trouble going to sleep or waking up, as well as problems with breathing, cold or numbness in their extremities or waves of muscular pain. All of these are reactions to stress mediated by the adrenal gland," he says.

Stoler adds that sexual performance problems, unprovoked anger, excessive fatigue, hyper vigilance and short-term memory problems also belong on the list of common concerns of the recently or soon-to-be unemployed.

But, she says, there's plenty you can do -- in addition to job hunting -- to reduce the level of stress.

"First, cut back economically wherever you can. Take control of your expenditures, especially if you've tended to overextend yourself economically," Stoler says. "Be thrifty, and simplify your life."

A period of unemployment can even be an opportunity to reclaim some of life's lost pleasures.

"Activities like family picnics, taking walks, playing cards with neighbors, renting a video or rediscovering a public library, art gallery or museum -- things you didn't have time to do when you were working 40 or more hours a week -- can help reduce stress, Stoller says.

"As can reaching out to others in your neighborhood or community," she adds.

For example, try volunteering to work with children, the elderly, the ill or those less fortunate.

"Those who volunteer and help others when they themselves feel rejected or stressed often begin to feel productive and content again," says Stoller. "Because of the tendency many of us have to over-identify with our work, losing a job can be like losing a part of yourself. Volunteering can help re-establish who you are and confirm that you are still a valuable, contributing member of society."

It's ironic, she says, but many people eventually look back on periods of unemployment as times of productive, positive accomplishment and personal growth.

What To Do

Read more about how stress affects employees waiting for the ax to fall in their workplaces at this Wall Street Journal site.

Need more tips about how to handle the emotional aftershocks of job loss? Check out the advice offered at CareerCity.

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