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Job stress on the rise

Call it the ripple effect. With the economy in a tailspin, many workers are facing even more stress on the job as they react to the specter of possible layoffs.

Even if you have survived job cuts, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook stress-wise. After all, someone has to pick up the slack when there are fewer bodies available to handle the workload.

“We have to learn how to manage stress in a healthy way, no matter where it comes from,” said therapist Susan Love, who has a private practice in Grass Valley and also serves as director of Team 3 Family Counseling Center in Nevada City.



Like other therapists, Love is seeing more people reporting stress because of the economy and the threat of job loss.

Love said she uses a “little equation” with her patients as a guideline for learning to deal with stress.



“E plus R equals O,” she said. “E is the event. The R is your response ” that’s what you have control over and learn to manage in a healthy way ” and O is the outcome.”

What it all boils down to, she said, is learning what you have control of and what you don’t ” and letting go of events over which you have no control.

“That is a simplistic reduction,” Love said. “But it is a very elementary guideline that can be applied to many situations. It’s like taking a deep breath.”

If you don’t take that calming breath, Love warned, you can get stuck in “looping” behavior, dwelling on a negative event makes you more depressed, which makes you dwell on it more and so on.

Michael Lewis, the human resources manager for the city of Grass Valley, which furloughed a number of workers last month, said keeping up the morale of the remaining workers can be difficult.

Getting buy-in from workers and maintaining a flow of information is crucial, Lewis said.

“It’s helpful in quelling the rumor mill,” he said. “The best way to relieve stress is to keep the facts out in front, keeping people aware of where we’re at … There are no hidden agendas here.”

Lewis said that he maintains an open-door policy and encourages workers to come in and talk about the impacts of the furloughs on the day-to-day workload. He added that he thought of bringing in someone to provide back massages but did not want to take money out of workers’ pockets to pay for stress reduction.

Love said it was important for people who are worried about the recession to put things into some sort of historical perspective.

“With all due respect, look at our parents, who went through wars and depressions ” they just put their nose to the grindstone and dealt with things,” she said. “There are always going to be things that come your way that are scary and not going to go away. If it’s not the economy, it’s global warming … When I was a kid, it was polio.”

On the flip side, Love advised having more faith in yourself.

“People need to have some confidence in their own capacity to solve problems,” she said.

Instead of dwelling on the fear, she said, look at your strengths.

And follow those fears to a logical conclusion.

“If you lose your job, can you work as a waitress?” Love asked. “If you lose your house, will you be OK? Walk it through, take the worst-case scenario and relax about it. You can lose a lot of stuff and still be OK.”

“The only clients I have that are not talking about the economic situation are the few teenagers I’m working with,” said therapist Wendy Conway.

Conway said one of her clients, a pensioner, is so worried about his daughter ” who lost her job and whose house is now in foreclosure ” that he is having panic attacks.

Another client, a restaurant owner, is “unable to sleep because she is agonizing over which employees to let go,” Conway said. “She worries about their families, what impact her decision will have on which one.

“Another client feels completely preoccupied with what is going on at work, as her office has downsized by 20 percent. She worries that she may be in the next cut. She obsessively frets over how her interactions with her supervisors go: What do they think of her, has she offended someone?”

Conway said the common denominator among her clients is obsessive worrying.

“It’s an understandable but automatic response,” she said. “Our survival mechanism kicks into overdrive and instead of being useful, our thoughts become flooded with potential negative outcomes. In my field, we call that catastrophic thinking.”

To “de-catastophize,” Conway recommended a free online resource: Byron Katie’s Web site, http://www.thework.com.

Like Love, Conway advised working through the worst-case scenario. She also recommended exercise to ward off depression.

“A third area, one that is most important in my opinion, is developing an attitude of appreciation,” Conway said. “Instead of focusing on what is wrong with one’s life, take on the practice of being grateful what is good in one’s life. It’s important to develop perspective about what is really important in life ” jobs and houses come and go, economies fluctuate ” life does not go on hold.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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