pastel by PattyRice,

Managing Stress During Tough Economic Times

By Elizabeth J. McMahon, PhD

Highly-paid and sought-after for years, ‘Jane’ hasn’t worked in months and feels worthless and alone. Following “trustworthy” refinancing and investment advice, ‘Bob’ lost everything and feels guilty, angry, and ashamed. ‘Dan’ graduated with debts, but no job. He’s scared and uncertain.

During these difficult economic times, you may find yourself thinking: How will I survive the recession? How can I cope with recession stress?

First, remember that no matter what happens financially, your life is not over. You still have worth and meaning.

Take steps to improve your mood, increase resilience and reduce stress. Notice the positives by writing down three good things that have happened every day.

Use helpful thinking. Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to your best friend.

Keep your perspective. Think of three ways things could be better, then think of three ways things could have been worse.

Limit useless worrying. Schedule 15 minutes per day to write worries and upsetting thoughts; the rest of the day, postpone such thoughts until your scheduled worry time. Challenge and question upsetting thoughts. Have you looked at all the facts? How else could you look at things?

For likely, realistic problems, make your best plan; then be at peace. You can only do what you can do. Life will go on. This too shall pass.

Here are additional tips to help you better manage your stress:

Avoid these stress traps:

  • Emphasizing losses and negatives
  • Focusing on who’s to blame
  • Thinking over and over about the worst possible outcomes
  • Making unrealistic demands, such as demanding certainty or fast, easy solutions
  • Alcohol or drugs

Manage stress:

  • Physically: walking, yoga, qi gong, tai chi, sports
  • Interpersonally: reach out for help, advice and support
  • Spiritually: prayer, meditation, mindfulness, chanting
  • Relaxation: slow diaphragmatic breathing, muscle relaxation, guided imagery

Seek professional help if:

  • Depression that makes it hard to do anything
  • You want to hurt yourself or others
  • Anger, alcohol, or drugs cause problems
  • Panic or worry interfere with your life.

Elizabeth J. McMahon, PhD, is a clinical psychologist with over 25 years experience helping patients in the outpatient psychiatry department of the Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center Outpatient Psychiatry Department and is an author and speaker on stress, burnout, and coping ( For info on stress, anxiety, depression, anger, visit and click “Health & wellness.”

“Managing Stress During Tough Economic Times” appeared in the San Leandro Times, San Leandro, CA and Castro Valley Forum, Castro Valley, CA, November 2009.