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WETZSTEIN: Dealing with stress of job loss

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Job loss is one of the biggest stressors in life, ranking up there with death of a spouse, divorce and personal injury.

Moreover, money is a major battleground in marriage. (Sex, work, children and chores are other top contenders.)

So it is inevitable that the economic woes are intensifying negative emotions and sparking unpleasant conversations in millions of homes.

I spoke with a counselor who regularly deals with job-loss trauma. Her advice follows.

But a cruel downside of this recession is that it has provoked some adults to do unthinkable things.

In California, for instance, a father and mother both lost their good-paying jobs. The couple made plans to relocate with their five children to a relative's home. But instead of moving, the father shot his wife, children and himself.

His suicide note said, "My wife felt it better to end our lives and why leave our children in someone else's hands ... ." Tragically, the only "hands" this short-sighted father consigned his family to belonged to the undertakers.

As someone who has experienced extreme poverty as an adult, I know the terror and shame that comes with not having enough money for food or utilities. But as a perennial optimist, I know that temporary adversity is not a reason to become a killer or commit suicide. When wolves prowl at the door, it is they - not ourselves - that must be vanquished.

Another unthinkable response to financial downturn is to take it out on one's mate or children.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) saw its call volume increase last year, so it conducted a six-week study to see whether there was a link between financial stress and violence.

The NDVH reported in January that more than half of 7,868 hot-line callers reported a change in their household finances in the past year, and 64 percent felt their homes had become more violent, too.

"We're full," is how Nichelle Mitchem, executive director of My Sister's Place in the District, describes her 22-bed shelter for battered women.

Women are not only calling for shelter these days, they are begging for help with utility bills, rent, food and clothing, she said. "We need a bailout, too."

Job loss usually brings out feelings of distress, anger, sadness, even bitterness, said Francie Crosby, LPC, a counselor with Cope Inc., a District-based organization that deals with workplace issues.

But people shouldn't allow these feelings to linger so long that they become paralyzing, she said. Find a way to process them, such as talking with a counselor, empathetic friend or family member.

Then, get in shape physically, so you can "think more clearly," she said, adding that walking is a excellent way to exercise.

Once a person's emotions have settled down, and the body is feeling healthier, it's time to adjust the attitude - one's spirituality may play a role here, she said. Then it's time to explore options, including stopgap measures for today and long-term planning for tomorrow.

If a parent has lost a job, consider having a family meeting to keep everyone informed and connected, Ms. Crosby added.

Ultimately, the goal is to figure out "what can we all do to get through this crisis moment," she said.

c Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.