University of Illinois Extension

Controlling 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.

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. Or 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. Don’t talk about “snapping out of it.” This denies the seriousness of someone’s feelings.

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 haven’t had time to do. Read about a topic you’ve wanted to learn more about.

Every member of the family feels stress during tough times. 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 that 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:

  1. Take a walk.
  2. Watch a movie.
  3. Spend time on yourself — take a long bubble bath or shower.
  4. Listen to music.
  5. Work in the yard or garden.
  6. Work on your favorite hobby, or start a new one.
  7. 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:

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