Unemployment is up; for many Laborers, hours are down. Home foreclosures are on the rise, and the cost of food and other necessities is creeping up. Meanwhile, stocks plummet, retirement accounts shrink and many people feel a financial hangover from spending money they didn’t really have on the holidays. These are hard times, full of stress.

Oftentimes, such economic stress comes with feelings of helplessness. That helplessness can lead to symptoms of stress, such as headaches, fatigue, anxiety or depression. In today’s crisis, many things are beyond your control, but you can control how you respond to the stress. Looking into your situation and taking responsibility for what you can control is a very powerful exercise.

Hard times drive some people to eat to excess and others to abuse alcohol or drugs. But turning to food, alcohol and drugs to cope with financial pressure only makes things worse. You’ll be less equipped to handle the situation and may fuel depression, addiction, heart disease and obesity.

If you or someone you know needs help with addictive behavior, contact Alcoholics Anonymous, the Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Hopeline, Narcotics Anonymous or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.

American Psychological Association

You can certainly control what you eat, how much you drink and whether or not you use drugs. In addition, you can assert more control over your financial situation.

If you have credit card bills from the holidays that you cannot afford, do not ignore them. Call your creditors and try to work out a payment plan. After you explain your situation, the company may lower your monthly payment, lower the interest rate or make some other accommodation. The same is true for your mortgage, your car loan or other regular bills.

Moreover, if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to assess your financial situation and rein in unnecessary spending.  While it is initially hard to restrict spending, after a short time, it usually gets easier. You may be amazed at how much money you’ve been spending on frivolous things.

Lastly, you can take care of yourself physically and mentally to prevent financial stress from wreaking havoc. Try basic steps such as sleeping and eating better. Exercise regularly and engage in recreational activities that you enjoy like fishing or bowling. As always, quit smoking and using tobacco products.

Don’t let the current economic climate steal your peace of mind. By making smart choices, you can weather this financial storm and regain control over your situation.

For help in talking with your children about family finances, see Talk to Your Children about Finances in this issue of LIFELINES.