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Stress and Anxiety: The Impact the Government Shutdown and The Fiscal Cliff Had on People

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

According to KSAT News and the University of Texas, the United States government shutdown caused people to experience increased amounts of anxiety and stress.

(The full article can be found at: http://www.ksat.com/news/government-shutdown-raises-stress-levels)

The fact is that people who work for the federal government were mostly on furlough and not able to collect a pay check. Although they would be paid in the future that was little comfort when they had bills to pay. Much like the debt ceiling that we  hear so much about, if people default on their bills, their credit ratings will suffer and that could affect their mortgages or their future ability to get a mortgage, borrow money to buy cars and use their credit cars for holiday shopping. Added to this is the fact that those who were on furlough reportedly to felt very bored with their time at home with nothing to do and restless to return to work.

Those who do not work for the federal government are also felt anxiety and stress. As we approached the deadline for refinancing the government debt limit, many people worried about what would happen to their investments as well as their bank savings. If the debt limit is not refinanced the government would not be able to pay it’s bills. That meant that people who hold government bonds, treasury bills and other investments would stand to lose lots of money. The stock market, sensitive to this type of impending financial disaster, would lose value with additional loss of money to those who hold stocks and that includes those with retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401Ks. In addition, if the government does not have enough money to pay it’s bills older Americans would not have received their Social Security checks.

According to the University of Texas psychology department, those who have a tendency or vulnerability to anxiety and stress were most likely to be emotionally affected by what was happening. So, what can people do to cope with what this type of thing in Washington D.C.? After all, this was not a fantasy, this was reality. Like war, taxes and illness, everyone must had to face what was happening. Keep in mind that it could all happen again in Feb. 2014 when the debt limit will again need to be refinanced because the settlement the government reached was only temporary.

Suggestions for coping with stress and anxiety under any circumstances:

1. Exercise is always a good way to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Increasing amounts of research strongly point to the benefits of exercise, especially those that are cardio-vascular in nature, such as jogging, swimming, bike riding and more.

2. Meditation and Yoga are great ways to reduce stress even in good times. Mindful meditation teaches how to fully accept emotions that are experienced and live in the moment. It has been found that both of these practices, which are often used together, reduce blood pressure, increase all around physical health while reducing stress.

3. Talking is always an adaptive way to cope with life’s difficulties. There are lots of benefits that come from talking with friends and family including getting their support and understanding. In this case, everyone is “in the same boat together.”

4. Implicit in #3 is the fact that it is better to socialize than to self-isolate. Social support is always helpful.

5. For those who wer furloughed and could be again if the government faces anothe shutdown in Feb. 2014,, there are always ways to keep busy while waiting to return to work. Many people have hobbies that this time can allow them to get to. It’s also a good time to be with the kids including taking them to and bringing them home from school. This is also time to socialize and the other furloughed colleagues are a good social support for socialization. For example, I know of a group of people who had a pot luck furlough dinner.

6. Learning and using deep breathing and deep relaxation techniques are good ways to reduce stress particularly since anxiety often results in shallow breathing and, as a result, increasing anxiety. How to do this can be found in the self help section of Mentalhelp.net or through a Google search of “stress reduction techniques or relaxation techniques.

7. Watch funny movies and TV programs and laugh as much as possible. This lightens the mood significantly.

8. It has been found that walks in the park or in natural settings feels really good and also reduces stress. If there is no park around then a good and vigorous walk around the block a few times also feels good. Walking is just as good as running or jogging.

9. Keep in mind and even make lists of all the things you have to feel grateful about. Using affirmations also helps. Keep them posted on the refrigerator.

10. Refrain from catastrophic thinking that says, “all is terrible and will never be good again” or some such variation of the same.

Do not despair, this too shall pass…unless it happens again!!

By the way, do not sit home and watch the news. It’s stressful and, even worse, it’s boring.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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