How well are you coping with financial stress?

Tough financial times are affecting lots of people in different ways. Maybe you've got college loans coming due and there's no sign of a job. Maybe your colleague was just laid off and you wonder whether you'll be next. Perhaps your spouse's hours have been cut back and you're trimming the budget -- again.

Sometimes the decisions that people have to make are heartbreaking. Beloved pets are being turned in at animal shelters. Adult children are moving in with parents -- and older parents are moving in with adult children -- when no one would choose to be living together. A client told me today that she didn't have enough money to pay for the costumes for her daughters' dance recital, something they had been looking forward to for months. It isn't life-shattering, but for that single mother and her daughters, unless someone is able to help, it's a disappointment they won't forget.

If you're one of many going through tough financial times, be sure to ask yourself: how well am I coping?As Pam Belluck tells us"stress associated with economic worries can affect people in different ways." If you're prone to anxiety or depression, you probably recognize your particular symptoms. Some of us can't sleep while others can't seem to stay up. One person will work frenetically, snapping at anyone who interrupts, while another seems to be in a hypnotic state in front of the television. People in recovery from addiction are at greater risk to relapse.

How do you know whether you're doing okay? What's a "normal" reaction to losing 40% of your 401K?

The first line of defense tends to be whatever you've done when stressed before. You'll tend to do whatever you normally do to cope only faster and harder. The student who played video games for ten days straight, when his girlfriend broke up with him, will probably play video games when his job falls through. It would, of course, be better if he could pull himself together in two days, but the important issue is whether he's still sitting in front of the game a month later or has rallied. The overweight woman who had been doing really well may "fall off the wagon" for a few days, but if she's gained back 20 pounds and is still overeating two months after a layoff, she's having trouble coping.

Job loss can create more than a financial crisis. It can create an emotional crisis as well. One man was so ashamed of losing his professional position that he kept it from his family for months, leaving and returning at his regular times, while he tried to find another job. Human beings tend to function best when we have a structure. Without the schedule of a job, people prone to depression are likely to become depressed. It helps to create a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Be sure to include exercise.

If you aren't sure how well you're doing, ask someone who knows you well. If you're not doing well, seek emotional support. If you have health insurance, ask your physician for a referral to a psychotherapist. Don't be concerned about the diagnosis. It's likely to be the common cold of mental health -- an Adjustment Reaction -- with either Anxious or Depressed Mood.

The good news is that it's spring. Go out, breathe, move. And if you need further tips and reason to smile, watch WalletPop's Loose Change video on stress management, Send in the Clowns!
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