Coping With Stress


Unexpected income changes are among the most
stressful events a person can experience.
Unemployment, a disaster, divorce, or the death of
someone you love can be personally devastating
and can trigger the same reactions.

stressed mother

Personal Crises Are Stressful

In a personal crisis, you may feel tense and angry.
You may have mood swings and find yourself
lashing out at others. Feelings of frustration can
lead to family arguments. You may feel depressed
and discouraged. These feelings may be normal and
common. Other family members usually share some
or all of your emotions, either directly or indirectly.
While sharing your feelings of loss and despair, they
may also have to deal with your depression,
frustration, and anger.

Allow yourself and other family members to express
feelings. Do not talk about “snapping out of it.”
This denies the seriousness of someone’s feelings. If
you or a family member are having trouble working
through your feelings, read [[Accepting Your
Feelings]] for more information.

A personal crisis may force you to make rapid
changes in your life. It can disrupt your habits and
normal routines and give you too much or not
enough free time. Maintain your daily routines as
much as you possibly can. Try to fill your time in
satisfying and rewarding ways.

Unemployment may mean you can spend time with
your children, spouse or other family members;
work on household projects that you have not had time to do; or read up on a topic you have wanted
to learn more about.

Every member of the family feels stress during tough
times. It is vital that you support and communicate
with one another. Some roles and responsibilities
may need to be changed until the crisis is over. Be
flexible and willing to try new things. Studies show
families who meet challenges head on are the most
likely to successfully cope with crises. Change can
be difficult, but all family members need to pull
together during a crisis.

Take Care of Yourself

In order to better cope with stress, keep your body
healthy. Eat balanced meals, get enough sleep, and
exercise regularly.

One approach to coping with stress overload is to
take a break from the stressful situation. Here are
some suggestions:

  • Take a walk.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Spend time on yourself – take a long bath or shower.
  • Listen to music.
  • Work in the yard or garden.
  • Work on your favorite hobby, or start a new one.
  • Jog, dance, or participate in some other physical activity.

Another approach is to take action to reduce excess
muscle tension by using relaxation exercises.
Although relaxation exercises do not get at the
causes of stress overload, they provide a physical
release from tension. Learning to achieve the
relaxation response is a skill that takes practice.
Practice the technique at least twice a day. Follow
these guidelines:

  • Find a quiet place.
  • Get into a comfortable position – lie down on the floor or sit with uncrossed legs.
  • Breathe easily and naturally.
  • Keep muscles loose, limp, and relaxed.

Easy Relaxation Techniques

Deep Breathing. Sit or lie comfortably in a relaxed
position. As you slowly breathe in, let your stomach
expand. Think of it as a balloon filling with air. As
you exhale, let the air out of your “balloon” slowly.
Place your hands on your stomach. You should feel
it rise and fall as you breathe.

Slower Respiration Rate. Slow down your
breathing rate by seeing how few times you can
breathe each 60 seconds. When you begin to get
tense, take a few minutes and simply slow your
breathing down to about three to six breaths per

Massage. Massage the back of your neck,
concentrating on the part that feels tense. Cup your
thumbs at the front of your neck and massage on
both sides of your spinal column, letting your head
fall limply back against your rotating fingers. Use
your fingers to massage around your hairline and
under your jaws and your cheekbones.

Mental Vacation. Enjoy the pleasures of a vacation
through your imagination. First, close your eyes and
think of some place where you would like to be.
Then go there in your mind’s eye. You may go alone
or you might imagine being with someone. You may
be quietly watching the sunset, mountain, woods,
or an ocean. Or you may be active in hunting shells
or rocks, hiking, playing some sport or game,
climbing a mountain, or cycling. Enjoy the

When To Get Help

Sometimes things may get so difficult and out of
control that you may need to get professional help.
In every community, resources such as the family
doctor, mental health professionals, support groups,
and clergy exist. They can help you deal with
extreme levels of stress and the physical and
emotional trauma that often accompany them.

The following symptoms indicate a need for outside

  • Feeling depressed. (Some signs are crying for no reason, lack of personal care, feeling as if you do not want to do anything, fatigue, unreasonable fears, inability to concentrate, change in appetite.)
  • Changing sleeping patterns. (Sleeping constantly, difficulty falling asleep, waking a lot during the night and too early in the morning.)
  • Abusing family members.
  • Thinking about suicide.
  • Disciplining too harshly.
  • Hallucinating (you hear voices or see things that are not there).
  • Considering separation from your spouse.
  • Thinking of nothing good to say.
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
  • Misusing drugs.
  • Feeling guilty, as though you are not being a good parent to your kids.
  • Experiencing isolation. (You do not know anyone to talk to and you have a strong need to talk to someone.)
  • Making excuses for your situation or lying about your situation.
  • Having attacks when you feel extremely panicky (may also have high pulse rate and difficulty breathing).
  • Feeling overwhelmed by life.

Before your problems become too big to handle,
find a trained, skilled counselor to help you and
your family cope with this crisis. A family counselor
can help you handle your fears, adjust to your
present situation, and plan adequately for the

Health insurance may help pay for counseling costs.
Some counselors charge on a sliding scale –
depending on your ability to pay. Counseling may
also be available from clergy at no charge.


Check the stress symptoms listed below that you
have experienced. You may try some of the suggested
Relaxation Techniques to relieve these
symptoms. If the symptoms persist, seek professional
help from your doctor or health care professional.

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth/throat
  • Face feels hot, flushed
  • Grind teeth
  • Neck/shoulders tighten up/ache
  • Heart beats faster
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heartburn
  • Nail biting
  • Hands and/or feet feel cold or sweaty
  • Back tightens up/aches
  • Stomach upset/nausea
  • Cramps
  • Increased urination/defecation
  • Diarrhea
  • Legs get shaky or tighten up
  • Tapping fingers or feet