How to cope with stress

October 22, 1991

* Accept the validity of your feelings; it's not abnormal to be upset.

* Talk about what's going on, with family and friends; give and get emotional support, and try to understand that what's happening is not caused by your failure; the economic situation is affecting others in the same way.

* Maintain your physical health: That means good nutrition, normal sleeping habits, regular check-ups, continuing whatever medical regimen you're on.

* Exercise. It'll help you work off some tension, contribute to your general well-being, help you relax. The general formula is 20 to 30 minutes of activity, at least three times a week.

* Practice progressive relaxation. (Sitting in a chair or lying in bed, begin with deep breathing, then tense and relax the muscle groups in your feet, legs, buttocks, back, abdomen, hands, arms, shoulders, neck and face. When all muscles are relaxed, focus your mind on a calming, soothing image. Remain relaxed and focused for 10 to 20 minutes per day.)

* Try not to take on any additional responsibilities outside of work -- or job-hunting. It's hard enough to manage what you've already got to do, and if you try to do more, and fail, you'll feel even worse.

* If you have to do more on the job, prioritize: That might mean letting your answering machine or voice-mail take your calls while you concentrate on a particular task. Or it could mean deciding what's most important or urgent, and doing that first. And give yourself an occasional break: Get up and stretch occasionally. And don't skip lunch.

* If you've lost your job, or are in danger of losing your job, take control of your situation: Review your financial status; find out what kind of benefits you're entitled to; sign up for career counseling and out-placement services. Consider training for another kind of career or position.

* Get professional help, from your employee assistance program, family physician or mental health counselor. EAP services are generally limited to three to five sessions, although special circumstances may entitle you to an extension. The EAP counselor may also be able to refer you to another low-cost mental health professional.

Several agencies can also refer you to low-cost or sliding fee-scale practitioners. Among them are:

-- The Mental Health Association in your locale. In the Baltimore area, call 235-9786.

-- The Maryland Psychological Association, at 995-0499.

-- The Pastoral Counseling and Consultation Centers of Greater Baltimore, at 256-6660.

-- The Maryland Society for Clinical Social Work, at 298-3226.

-- Jewish Family Services, at 466-9200, Ext. 285.

-- The Group Therapy Network (group therapy is less expensive than individual therapy). For referral in the Columbia, Laurel and Annapolis area, call Dr. Deborah Hazel Johnson, at 997-8191.

Sources include: Dr. Kevin Ferentz, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Ray Amillei, counselor at the Sheppard Pratt Employee Assistance Programs.

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