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Newswise — It's hard not to worry when newspapers, TV newscasts and the Web are filled with stories about layoffs, the stock market, foreclosures and shrinking retirement accounts.
Fears about losing a job and paying bills in a declining economy can lead to sleepless nights, but taking action before a potential job loss can help you stay calm and healthy, according to Micah McCreary, Ph.D., a professor in the VCU Department of Psychology.
In addition to assessing your financial fitness in a downturn, McCreary said it's also critical to review your mental and physical fitness.
"Prevention is critical. The key is to start taking care of yourself "now- before you lose a job," McCreary said. "Focus on what you find pleasure in and find less expensive ways to do those activities."
McCreary said exercise is important and doesn't have to be a budget-buster.
"Walking, hiking, jogging or running are great stress relievers and can be done for free," McCreary said. "And everyone can do sit-ups and push-ups at home."
If you enjoy reading, find encouraging and uplifting books that can be checked out at the library. If dining out is a favorite activity, consider cooking in. The whole family can prepare the meal together.
McCreary said it's also important to spend a special day with your child or hold a weekly family fun night, focusing on inexpensive activities that can bring families together. And if you belong to a house of worship, don't forget to stay active in groups and activities.
"You have to keep your sense of humor and you have to like yourself," McCreary said. "A negative self-image can hold you back when the time comes to interview for a new job."
McCreary said no two people react to a job loss in the same way. Some become angry or aggressive. Others become sad and withdraw from even their closest family members and friends. People encountering one of life's stressors need to reach out to others.
"Some people are what I call healing personalities, people who are just fun to be around. Seek them out. There's power in relationships," McCreary said. "I'm already working with other members of my family now. It's important that everyone stays in touch and can kick in resources to help out if a member of the family loses a job."
McCreary said left unchecked, stress can build into a full-blown case of depression, with potentially serious mental and physical health consequences.
"The body is going to tell you, for sure. Blood pressure rises. You start getting migraines and headaches," McCreary said.
Dramatic changes in sleeping or eating patterns may also be signs of depression.
McCreary suggested loved ones can help an unemployed family member or friend by helping to:
* Appraise the stress and determine its source.
* Make an honest evaluation of the situation, considering financial strengths and weaknesses and identifying resources to turn to for help.
* Deal with the stress directly.
McCreary said low-cost resources exist in the Richmond area for those in need of professional psychological support. The VCU Center for Psychological Services and Development offers a variety of counseling and career assessment services. Fees are charged on a sliding scale, based on a family's income.