Coping with Emotional Stress

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Coping with emotional stress

People who gravitate to careers in education work in an environment that emphasizes structure and stability - so losing a job can make them "feel the ground is moving" beneath them, says Dr. Peter Kanaris, clinical psychologist and coordinator of public education for the New York State Psychological Association.

"It's important to recognize the effect of this economy on people in education is great, and kind of unique, " Kanaris says.

He is a state-certified school psychologist who formerly worked in the Harborfields School District and was a member of the Harborfields Teachers Association before joining colleagues in starting a clinic.

Women compose 65 percent of NYSUT's membership, and the American Psychological Association's 2008 "Stress in America" survey shows women are disproportionately affected by the stress of the changing economy.

"The weight of the family is absolutely more on them, the pressure, the family management, making ends meet, and being an earning force in the family... is more on women," Kanaris says. "Women are juggling at least a half dozen balls at the same time."

Whether male or female, educators tend to align themselves strongly with their jobs: librarian, teacher, school nurse, school social worker, teaching assistant.

"I notice with people in education: when we're trained to do something it becomes a part of our identity. We slot ourselves in, `This is who I am,'" Kanaris said.

That can make it tough to cope, but staying active makes a difference.

Some tips:

  • Pause, don't panic.
  • Limit your exposure to negative stories about the economy in print or on television.
  • Identify financial stressors.
  • Make a plan involving the entire family on how to cut back on expenses.

During times of stress, Kanaris said, people sometimes make unhealthy choices for relief: smoking, drinking or emotional eating, for example.

Instead, he suggests, "Move your legs, take action." Exercise or renewed interest in a hobby are "paradoxical opportunities."

"When you're working, you have less time for exercise. It's a common complaint," Kanaris said.

Being laid off also provides opportunity to spend time with family members and friends.

It is essential to keep mentally and physically in shape, he advised:

  • Consider further education to keep stimulated and to become more marketable.
  • Avoid "awfulizing" the situation. Questions your thoughts if you start to dwell on imaginary outcomes, and deal instead with the demands of the present moment.
  • Assess skills and interest. Teachers, for example, are good communicators and could make good consultants.

Kanaris urges those dealing with loss of a job to pay attention to themselves. Seek help, he said, for ongoing problems with:

  • trouble sleeping
  • changes in appetite
  • difficulty paying attention
  • irritability
  • malaise
  • depression
  • persistent anxiety or nervousness.

Rebuilding after loss of a job

Losing a job is a life-changing experience that calls for relying on family, friends and even fellow employees who are going through a similar experience. NYSUT can refer associate members, or those recently laid off, to resources for help through NYSUT Social Services. All can help build hope and motivation.

Work is a basic human need, providing satisfaction in using skills and talents, earning income and sharing time with colleagues. It is a central and defining part of our lives. By earning money for work, we are able to meet survival needs for food, shelter and medical care. There is also a psychological component: Works helps us meet a need to be productive, creative and valued members of society.

When we lose our jobs, we lose our salaries, along with a place to go every day -- a work community. Work is one way we identify ourselves in the world. Without it, our self-esteem and self-confidence can be threatened.

By sharing concerns with friends, family and colleagues, we can rebuild our inner strengths. Colleagues can help us exchange job information, follow job leads and lead us to employment resources. Researching options for further education, a career change, or realizing a renewed commitment to our profession –- perhaps just in another district -– all help to motivate.

Losing a job has the same kind of effect as a death in the family or a serious accident. It can make us question ourselves and the world around us when the things we have counted on are suddenly gone.

Feeling the anger that can come after being told, "You no longer have a job here," can lead us to blame ourselves: "I shouldn't have gone into this profession" … "I should have gone back to school for that other degree" … "I should have picked a different school district to work in."

Talking out fears and anger with friends and family is helpful. Sometimes a professional -- a social worker, counselor, psychologist, faith-based leader or career counselor -– can help. Developing a strong support system is very important. Writing out lists of our strengths and attributes can remind us why we are a good fit for our chosen profession.

For many people, keeping a routine is essential to staying positive and focused. Maintaining a proper diet and exercising regularly are important factors in holding on to a good outlook during a difficult time.