Life can certainly be challenging at times. True? Multiple stressors abound in our personal and professional lives, creating various levels of stress as we determine how to cope. Money and work are two of the top sources of stress for almost 75 percent of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America Survey. In these tough economic times, with increased unemployment, rising consumer debt, and declining retail sales, more and more Americans feel additional stress and anxiety about their financial future. Our area of the country may not be struggling as much as others, yet many of us are feeling the increased stress as we watch and pray for economic recovery. While I don’t want to sound like I’m preaching doom and gloom, I do want to encourage you to consider how you are managing financial concerns because this type of stress affects our health significantly. The APA conducted their survey in 2007 and followed up in 2008 to study the effects of stress on our health in tough economic times and the coping behaviors we turn to. The survey found that in June 2008, more people reported physical and emotional symptoms due to stress than they did in 2007, and nearly half (47 percent) of adults reported that their stress increased in the past year. More people reported fatigue (53 percent compared to 51 percent in 2007), feelings of irritability or anger (60 percent compared to 50 percent in 2007) and lying awake at night (52 percent compared to 48 percent in 2007) as a result of stress, in addition to other symptoms including lack of interest or motivation, feeling depressed or sad, headaches and muscular tension. Women were more likely than men to report physical symptoms of stress like fatigue (57 percent compared to 49 percent), irritability (65 percent compared to 55 percent), headaches (56 percent compared to 36 percent) and feeling depressed or sad (56 percent compared to 39 percent).  The report stated that almost half of Americans surveyed reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods to manage stress, while one in four skipped a meal during the prior month because of stress. Women were more likely than men to report unhealthy behaviors to manage stress like eating poorly (56 versus 40 percent), shopping (25 versus 11 percent), or napping (43 versus 32 percent). Almost one-fifth of Americans reported drinking alcohol to manage their stress, and 16 percent reported smoking. “With the deteriorating economy dominating the headlines, it’s easy to worry more about your finances than your health, but stress over money and the economy is taking an emotional and physical toll on America,” says psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice. “Many say they are handling their stress well. Yet, people report more physical and emotional symptoms. If Americans continue to experience these high levels of stress for prolonged periods of time, they are at risk for developing serious illnesses.” OK. We’ve heard the warnings, so what can we do to effectively manage this stress? The APA offers some tips to consider (www.apahelpcenter.org): 1. Pause and don’t panic. Pay attention to the economy but avoid getting caught up in anxiety that can lead to bad decision-making. Remain calm. Breathe. Focus. Then make careful choices. 2. Identify your financial stressors and make a plan. Write down ways you and your family can manage your finances. Then commit to the plan, review it regularly and adjust as necessary. 3. Recognize how you deal with stress regarding money. Take an honest personal assessment of your coping behaviors. If you find cause for concern, seek help before the problem worsens. 4. Turn these challenging times into opportunities for growth and change as you think outside the box and try new ways of managing your life. 5. Seek professional support if needed. It’s a challenging time and a temporary time; so we must do all we can to take care of ourselves as we press through it, trusting God to guide our steps, provide for our needs, and see us through. Good news: He promises that as we draw close and place our trust in Him, He faithfully does just that! Nancy Williams, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a counseling, coaching and consulting practice in Kingwood. Send questions or comments to her at www.nancywilliams.net. Please note that this column is not intended to serve as professional advice.

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