Government shutdown’s psychological impact on employees, how to copePsychologists available for interviews on confronting anxiety-laden situations such as the shutdown

CHICAGO --- As the longest-running government shutdown continues in its fourth week, Northwestern University psychologists Alexandra Solomon and Mark Reinecke can discuss the psychological impact of the shutdown on government employees and methods of coping during an uncertain time. 

Alexandra Solomon is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University and assistant clinical professor of psychology at Northwestern University. She can be reached at asolomon@family-institute.org.

Mark Reinecke is the chief of psychology in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He is available by pager at 312-707-0221 or reporters can contact Kristin Samuelson at kristin.samuelson@northwestern.edu. He is available today through Friday for phone interviews but only available Friday for on-camera interviews.

Quotes from Professor Solomon: 

"A government and its people are a large ecology. The impact of the government shutdown is felt at the macro level certainly, but we need to also honor the ways in which the impact is felt at the level of the family, the couple and the individual. 

“It is normal and expected for individuals to feel increased anxiety, anger, fear and despair. Couples are likely to feel stress and pressure, which may spike conflict. Kids may feel anxious as they watch and feel parental stress and strain. 

“It is important for individuals to practice self-care, which has two aspects: stepping up and stepping back. Stepping up means getting active and pushing back against larger systems who act without attention to the repercussions. Stepping back means engaging in restorative practices, such as movement, nature, connection, laughter and play.​" 

Quotes from Professor Reinecke:

“To be sure, we've been through this before and it will pass, but that doesn't alleviate the anxiety and frustration the shutdown has caused,” Reinecke said. “Several things can be helpful when confronting stressful, anxiety-laden situations such as this:

“There is a natural tendency to magnify how bad the situation is, to overestimate how likely dire outcomes are and to underestimate our ability to cope. We tend to catastrophize and dwell on worst-cases scenarios. Ruminating about problems, though, rarely helps. Rather, it's useful to engage in ‘solution-focused thinking.’ Put pen to paper, list out three to five possible solutions, evaluate them, then set the paper aside and shift your attention to another activity. 

“De-catastrophize -- the worst is not likely to occur -- and keep a sense of perspective. Take the long view and attend to your own coping skills.

“Tolerate ambiguity. We can't know when this will end or how. With this in mind, let go of your natural desire for certainty and control. Very often individuals in stressful situations become tense and vigilant. They scan their worlds looking for indices of risk or danger. This makes sense, but can be problematic in that their attention is directed away from ‘safety cues’ or evidence of competence and coping. With this in mind, it can be helpful to reflect on personal and family resources, coping skills, and abilities.”

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