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How Can I Manage Stress During the Oil Spill?

Disruptions in normal life due to the oil spill can cause stress for people living and working on the Gulf Coast. Some of the possible sources of daily stress can be:

  • Not knowing the full impact of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast
  • Loss of control over daily life
  • Loss of jobs and businesses within the community
  • Confusing messages about the economic and natural resource effects of the spill
  • Duration of the clean-up process and inability to quickly shut off the spill.


How can I manage the stress?

  1. Because each of us responds to stress differently, various stress reduction techniques will work for different people. Recognize signs of unusual levels of stress so you can rest and pull back before problems develop. These are some signs of high levels of stress:
    • Being on edge, being easily startled, or becoming overly alert
    • Sudden changes in sleep, exercise, diet, and other behaviors
    • Skipping doctor appointments
    • Feeling depressed, sad, and having low energy
    • Feeling “scattered” and unable to focus on work or daily activities
    • Difficulty making decisions
    • Feeling irritable, easily upset, angry, or resentful
    • Feeling very protective of, or fearful for, the safety of loved ones
    • Trouble sleeping or even resting.
  2. Identify the causes of your stress. What causes you the most worry, concern, or sadness? Once you’ve pinpointed the cause of stress, see if there is something you can do about it.
    • Make a list of things that cause you stress now. Is there anything you can do to help control or cope with some of them?
    • Notice when you are upset. Figure out what about the spill upsets you. What are you telling yourself about the meaning of these events?
    • Figure out how your body responds to the stress. Do you feel nervous or do you get physically upset? If so, in what ways?
    • Make a list of problems you face. Are there any actions you can take to solve them?
  3. Take actions to reduce stress.
    • One way to cope with stress is to take positive action to deal with stressful events. You may be able to control at least some of the events in your life by trying to:
    • Plan ahead if you have a chance to. When under stress, it may be helpful to plan and imagine different ways you could problem solve issues that you are facing today.
    • Set priorities. Decide what must get done and what can wait.
    • Be careful about major decisions. It is often best not to make big changes right away during a crisis if you can avoid it. It is all too easy to make misjudgments when thinking under stress.
    • Try not to get overloaded. Say no to extra things that you don’t have time for. Don’t take new responsibilities until you feel in control of the things you must do today.
    • Rest and recharge. Shorten your exposures to stress during the crisis. Take a mini- break by doing something enjoyable and healthy. Be sure to limit excessive TV watching about the crisis.


Another possible way to manage stress is to change your attitude about a situation. Sometimes it’s not possible to change an event, but you might be able to change how you look at the situation by trying to:

  • Be flexible in dealing with disaster-related changes in daily life.
  • Have modest and realistic expectations of yourself and others.
  • Notice what you have done at the end of the day, not what you have failed to do.
  • Remember that you are probably having normal reactions to a very stressful situation and so are many people around you.


Finally, a third possible way to cope is to change how your behavior in response to stressful events. You may not have much control over the spill but you have some choice as to how you react.

  • In talking with others, deal with the issue at hand rather than reacting to the other person.
  • Take care of yourself physically. It will be a long time until things feel “normal” again and a good diet, regular exercise and rest will make you more able to fight the negative effects of stress. Avoid the use of illegal drugs and too much alcohol - they only make things worse.
  • Practice relaxing. Yet even a few minutes a day of doing something you enjoy can reduce stress and recharge you.
  • Stay in touch with those who can provide emotional and other support and avoid dwelling on your problems.


What can I do if stress is getting to be overwhelming or too much?

Signs that you have been under too much stress may include mental, emotional, and physical changes. Again, each person reacts differently. Please ask for help from a medical or mental health professional if you feel like you or a family member need help for any reason, or:

  • If you feel constantly depressed, or hopeless or trapped
  • If you are chronically enraged
  • If the way you feel is seriously affecting your sleep, eating, or how you relate to others
  • If you feel you can’t deal with the situation anymore
  • If you or a family member are thinking about hurting themselves
  • If you or a family member show violence towards others
  • If you are using illegal drugs or alcohol in order to function
  • If you are withdrawing from family or friends
  • If you feel physically exhausted or ill
  • Or, if you can’t function at work or at home.


Where can I go for help?

For help, you can ask your doctor for help and/or a referral for counseling.

Or, you can use the DHHS mental health services locator at http://www.samsha.gov/treatment.

Or, you can get help by dialing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national 24-hour toll-free suicide prevention service available to those in suicidal crisis.

Also, each community has its own emergency numbers and services in case you need help right away.


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