Job Losses Carry High 'Stress Tag'

THURSDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- As each day brings more bad news on the U.S. economic crisis, the monetary cost of the mounting job losses might be far easier to measure than the mental toll on the thousands of people who suddenly find themselves out of work.

"When you lose a job, the losses are multiple," explained Michael McKee, a psychologist at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "There's the possible loss of the financial ability to support yourself and your family if you don't have savings. There may be the loss of self-respect, and the respect of others. For some people, there's a loss of identity. There's a loss of security and daily structure. At the extreme end, there are people who lose meaning and hope."

"What I feel is different now is that a great many people are anticipating that things will get worse," McKee added. "People are talking about a depression. And, it's everyone who's worried, even people with a great deal of money and middle-class people. It's getting harder to muster some optimism."

"People might be aware of the stress of job loss, but I don't think they're aware of the impact it has on their life," said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Neuropsychiatric Institute. "Any loss results in depression and anger. Those are two things that people who've lost their job will feel."

The one upside -- if there is one -- is that people losing a job today might feel less of a stigma about their job loss because they have so much company. "It may be harder to find a job and harder to finance the things you need, but it is easier in terms of feeling less singled out, and it's easier to get extended benefits," Lieberman noted. U.S. Labor Department statistics released last week back that theory: Almost 600,000 people lost their jobs in January, bringing the nation's unemployment rate to 7.6 percent.

Those numbers have stressed out many Americans, even those who still have jobs, according to a recent USA Today story. The demand for therapists increased 40 percent from June to December, and most of that was driven by money-related fears, said Richard Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of ComPsych, the nation's largest employee-assistance mental health program. And surveys from the American Psychological Association released last fall showed nearly half of Americans said they were more stressed than a year ago, with one-third rating their stress level as "extreme."

If you're lucky enough to only experience a short-term job loss, the effect on your mind and body will likely be minimal, said stress expert, Dr. Jeff Brantley, director of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at Duke Integrative Medicine in North Carolina.

"It's when stress becomes chronic that all systems of the body are affected," he said.

But, he added, if you're mindful of your reactions, you can go a long way toward controlling them. He explained that when you hear a fire alarm, your body tenses and your mind races, trying to figure out how to escape the danger. But, then, if someone says, "Don't worry; there's no fire; it was a false alarm," your body will begin to restore its natural balance and ease.

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