How To Handle Post-Recession Job Stress . . . With unemployment stuck at 9.6%, workers are staying in jobs they dont like, enduring crushing workloads and wondering if things will ever improve.
The worst of the waves of layoffs may be over, but countless American workers who still have their jobs are unhappy at them, overloaded with increased responsibilities, short of colleagues to share the burden, and unsure where they can turn to look for something better. Few people got raises last year–many took pay cuts–and its not looking like pay hikes will come anytime soon.
«Everybody is as stressed as Ive ever seen,» reports Joan Kane, a Manhattan psychologist who has worked as a therapist for 23 years. «The stress level is off the charts.»
According to Kane, the usual therapeutic approaches do not apply right now. «In therapy, we try to help patients discover who they really are,» she explains. «In this environment, its more helpful to not necessarily be your authentic self.» Instead, she says, you need to show that you can adapt. «Even if things are horrible and morale is low, you do not want to go in and say so to your boss. Instead you want to describe how what youre doing is positive and talk about what youve created and why youre successful.»
Many workers whose central focus in life was their job have had to set their sights elsewhere. Patients who complained about their work for years are suddenly clamming up. «They feel they have no right to complain, because theyve got a job,» says Paul Browde, a New York psychiatrist. «Underneath, they are more stressed than ever before. Its like living with a continual chronic stress disorder.» Many shift their conflicts to the home front. «People are starting to have marital and health issues,» Browde observes.
Browde encourages his patients to be aware of their anxiety. Know that eventually this phase must pass. Meanwhile, find time for relaxation and exercise, even if you must engage in a shorter than optimal routine. «Even if its just five minutes of relaxation exercises a day, its important,» he counsels.
Billie A. Pivnick, a psychologist who teaches in the clinical psychology doctoral program at Columbia Universitys Teachers College, breaks stress responses into categories depending on personality type. There are people who get overwhelmed and then withdraw, logging multiple sick days and absences. There are others who manically dive into workaholic mode while displaying irritability and picking fights with their colleagues.
Some freeze as though caught between the impulses of fight and flight. «Those are the folks who wind up getting into trouble with substance abuse, sex on the job or other inappropriate things that make them less functional,» says Pivnick, who designed a pioneering stress management program for cardiac rehab patients in the 1970s.
A fourth category includes the most well-adjusted people, who exhibit what Pivnick calls a «secure response.» They hang back for a moment and assess the situation before moving forward in a judicious way.
Pivnick suggests different coping techniques for each personality type. People with a tendency to withdraw should find an exercise routine that keeps them active. For manic workaholics, Pivnick prescribes deep breathing, meditation and diverting their attention from work by socializing or going to movies. «Those people need a life,» she says. For those who freeze, its important to find a mentor or attachment figure at work who can help them move forward.
Dorothy Cantor, a psychologist in Westfield, N.J., says that beleaguered workers should realize that its normal to feel anxious at times like these. «Dont add to your own discomfort and anxiety by being self-critical,» says Cantor. «Too many people pathologize what theyre feeling. You just have to tolerate it. Time will heal it.»