During the 1997/98 economic crisis, individuals who were not able to cope with the pressures and stresses of the economic crisis struggled as well in their own family relationships. The pressures and stresses faced by individuals at their work place can indirectly cause the breakdown of many marriages and family relationships. As the current financial crisis hit our shores, we need to be vigilant in not only addressing the financial issues faced by the country but also the effects of the financial crisis on our own families and homes.
Financial pressure can place individuals and families at a greater risk for depression, anxiety, anger, thoughts of suicide and physical illness. Marital conflicts and family violence may increase, as well as feelings of helplessness. Drug (illegal or prescription) and alcohol use may worsen. The impact of a family member going through any of the above problems will pose serious effects to family members especially children.
There are actions couples and families with children can take to cope with financial stresses and the challenges that arise from these pressures. An article from Randy Weigel from Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wyoming has some helpful advice.
Act immediately. If a person is laid off, family income could drop dramatically. Shock and disbelief are common first reactions. At such a time it is important to avoid withdrawing or becoming isolated. Instead, take a constructive approach. A displaced worker, for example, could immediately take advantage of other employment services.
It is important to bring a family together to explain the family’s situation. Children will know when there are difficulties at home so leaving them out of a discussion will only increase their anxiety. By discussing coping strategies together, a family can create a survivor attitude.
One of the first things a family needs to do is to prioritize and decide what things constitute essentials and what are extras. Then a family can budget for important things such as mortgage, health costs, utilities, food and delay or eliminate non-essential items.
Keep children involved. It is important to let children actively contribute to a family during this time. For example, if a mother has to work longer hours because a father is out of work, the children can help prepare dinner instead of her. Allowing the children to help with household chores gives them a sense of control over the situation.
It is important to remember that they are also learning how to handle frustration and crisis. By watching how their parents act in such a situation, children are learning coping skills.
Take care of one’s self. When in the middle of a financial, personal or family crisis, maintaining control is important. Staying healthy boosts the endurance and energy needed to deal with problems and stress. When stressed, there is a tendency to neglect health habits; which then can lead to more stress.
Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise to relieve stress and limit the use of alcohol. A family could also take long walks to benefit their health and increase their time together.
Maintain routines. Keeping family routines such as eating together, participating in youth activities and maintaining family rules and school expectations can give family a sense of stability and can reassure children. Families should also continue outside activities when possible and affordable. However, they may need to be lower-cost alternatives. Continuing activities can help a family maintain a support network with others.
Get a handle on the situation. Remember that other people have been in similar situations of economic upheaval and hard as it is, they have learned to overcome their difficulties. Do not keep anxiety and anger bottled up. Talk with someone trusted and close about feelings of anger, confusion and fear. Family members and others can help in times of stress.
Try to take one thing at a time. There may be many changes to face, but it is not beneficial to try to resolve all problems at once. Solving one problem at a time gives a sense of control over the situation.
Finally, keep occupied, active and involved. The loss of a job can result in extra time to think about troubles. Naturally, time is needed to plan for the future and a find a new job, but consider spending some of the extra time helping with a community project. Doing something for others will not only help them but will also help to build personal feelings of self-worth. Coping with the stress and pressure of reduced income is not an easy task for individuals or families. There are no easy answers or quick cures. However, by reducing and prioritizing spending as quickly as possible and working within a family to establish priorities, make decisions and minimize anxiety, individuals and families can help strengthen and prepare themselves for the future.
The long-term consequences of continued family stress can include truancy, running away from home, substance abuse and suicide.
Children and adolescents suffering from the effects of stress may show some specific behaviour patterns. While many of these physical reactions and behaviours are typical for most children at one time or another, they should be viewed as danger signals if they are extreme, if they occur often and if many of them appear at once.
Danger signals to look for young children include:
Increase in temper tantrums; self-abuse through slapping, head banging or calling one’s self degrading names; highly demanding of adults’ time and attention; restless- unable to play for any length of time; preoccupied with frightening images of monsters or other violent, threatening figures; talking compulsively about physical dangers or threats; and , constant self –stimulation through prolonged thumb sucking, masturbation or rocking.
Changes to look for in young children and adolescents include:
Noticeable change in eating and sleeping habits; decline in the quality of school work; lack of emotional responsiveness and symptoms of apathy or depression; becoming sullen, defiant and overly sensitive to mild criticism; withdrawal from friends and family; aggression against others, even adults; sleep problems such as nightmares, grinding teeth; and signs of physical distress such as trembling hands or facial twitches, a rigid facial expression from taut muscles, clumsiness on easy manual tasks, more frequent illness and complaints of headaches and fatigue.
Adolescents may show signs of drug and alcohol abuse, an unusual neglect of personal appearance and a sudden, forced cheerfulness after a period of depression. It is important to note that not all children develop problems as a result of disruptive events or difficult circumstances.
The road to recovery following an economic crisis can be a rocky one. Some families and children can cope and accept the crisis sooner than others.