20 Ways to Cope During a Government Shutdown

14 Jan 20 Ways to Cope During a Government Shutdown

20 Ways to Cope During a Government Shutdown

 A Mental Health Survival Guide For Federal Employees & Contractors

The emotional impact on a government employee or federal contractor who is currently experiencing stress from the shutdown could affect their health and their performance for years. As the CEO of an organization who helps homeless veterans and prisoners find their footing with temporary housing, we take pride in helping many who are in transition. We help those suffering from an addiction to enter back into the world, drug-free. The loss of income or the threat of the loss of income can affect anyone and their families for many years to come.

With that in mind, we have developed a list of some things you can do to keep you mentally sharp and help you cope with the stress during this time.

This list has come from several sources, our team here at Top Priority Care Services who help individuals who are in crisis every day, as well as, some small business owners and entrepreneurs who live with the rollercoaster of abundance one month, and scarcity the next.

#1. GET PHYSICAL – Take a walk, lift weights, do yoga, stretch, do jumping jacks, shoot hoops or go dancing. Just get going. By getting your blood pumping you’ll be able to release the feelings of anxiety and you will be moving the fear out of your body. 

Research demonstrates many positive health benefits by simply “getting physical.” A combination of 5 hormones and brain-boosting chemicals called serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, norepinephrine, and BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) are released during aerobic exercises and light weight training. These brain-boosting chemicals can increase your energy level while preventing depression along with increasing your ability to focus. Becoming more alert and improving your memory is another positive benefit. Endorphins and dopamine increase motivation, relieve pain and makes you feel good. Perhaps a greater benefit preserves cognitive functioning while protecting your brain against injuries.

One of our small business owners told us since she works out of her home, she walks 30 minutes after hours with her husband and business partner. They talk about the issues and challenges of the day. On the 30-minute walk back, their conversation always shifts to movies, memories, and other family members. They begin smiling and laughing and are able to leave the day’s stress behind.

#2. MAINTAIN YOUR SCHEDULE – Get up at your normal work time. Use your “commuting time” to do what you do when you commute. Maybe you read on the way to work on the train, if so, then read from 7-8am.  If you listen to audiobooks in the car, listen to an audiobook while having your cup of coffee from 8-9am. Use that same commuting time to do what you normally do. This may have been your only solitary time where you gathered your thoughts or knitted those scarves….and by being furloughed your routine has been broken up and you’ve lost your “decompressing” time you’ve had every day during your commute. Give yourself that time – even when you’re not commuting.

#3. DECLUTTERING YOUR HOME WILL DECLUTTER YOUR HEAD – Start a few clean-up projects you’ve been meaning to do. Clean your closets, the garage, the basement, and your kitchen cabinets. Complete the “honey do” list that seems to never end. Get rid of old stuff that is taking up space. It always feels good to be in a clean, decluttered space.

#4. TAKE TIME OFF TO REMIND YOURSELF HOW MUCH YOU’RE LOVED – Go through old family photos, letters and cards people have sent to you over the years. Re-discover how much you are loved and cherished. You are NOT alone.

#5. TURN OFF THE NEWS – Rediscover a quiet mind, listen to music, watch a favorite old movie or read.  Turn down all the noise and chatter and speculation about the shutdown. Limit your news intake to one hour a day.

#6. PICK UP YOUR ART/MUSE AGAIN – Pick up the paintbrush, the musical instrument, the woodwork or restoration project. Remind yourself that you’re NOT your job. Start to cook again and engage others to help you bake and create.  Draw, paint, color, play, read, sing, or write!

#7. WRITE DOWN YOUR FEARS AND FEELINGS – Write down your fears and identify which are real issues and make a plan to do something about them. Now, let go of the ones that are a byproduct of this temporary setback.  Address, acknowledge and be okay with your emotions.

#8. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR LOVED ONES – Ensure your family, especially your children, that everything is going to be okay. Let them know you are having an emotional time. Emotions are completely rational and normal during times like this, but you WILL SURVIVE and all WILL BE OKAY. Kids don’t have the brain capacity to tell the difference. They may feel that this is life-or-death and they can learn from this experience by watching and witnessing how you COPE with it. Show them the appropriate way to handle this kind of family challenge, adventure, or an opportunity to learn.

#9. RECONNECT – Spend time reconnecting with old friends, family, kids. This is a good time to sit face-to-face with someone you love, someone in a nursing facility, or someone who is unable to leave the home and needs a friend. Go have coffee with a friend or mentor.

One business owner shared with us that she had to disassociate with all negative people during her “famine” times.  Negative people poked holes at her decision to be an entrepreneur. Negative people feed on fear. Disconnect with all people who are negative. If they are asking you, “What are YOU going to do?” or criticizing your profession, disconnect from them for now. They are NOT helping your situation at all and NOT helping by just listening and loving and supporting you.  Business entrepreneurs have to do this all the time from friends and family who say, “Why don’t you get a job?” when they’re on the road to inventing something new and great. They have to deal with competitors knocking them down every day. How do they cope with negativity? They disassociate with negative people and keep going.

#10. REAFFIRM YOUR FAITH. If you’ve been going to church but you haven’t talked to your Minister, Rabbi, Pastor or Priest one-on-one, now’s the time. They are always happy to offer welcoming words of wisdom during challenging and stressful times.

#11. IT’S RAINING – If you’ve been “saving for a rainy day” – it’s RAINING. Stop putting yourself into scarcity if you have savings in the bank. Pull from your whole life policy or get equity from your home. If you have resources, use them – they’re available during these times.

#12. SEEK ANSWERS – Get to a place of finding ANSWERS instead of asking questions. Don’t tell yourself stories and create worse case scenarios for yourself. Write down what you can solve and create a list of things you can to do to solve it. Search and get answers for yourself. If you can’t find the answer, find a mentor you trust can point you in the right direction. People during this time WANT to support and help you.

#13. REALIZE THE MIRACLE OF BEING ALIVE – Get out into nature. See how birds, bugs, animals survive and be amazed. Realize how blessed you are to have such a large brain to have created the abundance and had the smarts to have for yourself and your family: your home, your car, health food on the table, for all these years. This is a blip in your life-story as the provider. You are resourceful – much more capable than the animals. You’ve GOT this.

One entrepreneur said that watching animals during survival situations offers encouragement during slow times and in-between closing deals. For example, she says she has a woodpecker who taps on the tree every day at the same time. Her metaphor for this woodpecker is, he is making “cold calls” on each tree. Some trees offer a nutritious meal one day and others another day, so the woodpecker is making his rounds.  Thinking about that woodpecker, the entrepreneur gets back onto making sales calls because it’s nothing personal, it’s just a numbers game…. just like that woodpecker going from tree-to-tree.

#14. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS – Stop counting your fears and everything that’s going wrong. Look around you and see what you’ve manifested for yourself and your family.

#15. WRITE DOWN YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS/CONTRIBUTIONS – Stop focusing on your recent setbacks. Go through your resume and look at the projects you’ve finished, the people you’ve served and perhaps even saved, the money you’ve saved, the teams you’ve built, the people you’ve mentored, and the awards you’ve received.

#16. UPDATE YOUR RESUME – Everyone in the commercial marketplace brushes up their resume once a year and updates their LinkedIn Profile. It’s time for you to get everything up-to-date.

#17. VOLUNTEER for your church, your child’s school, your local soup kitchen, your local hospital, or your local library. You’ve been telling yourself you’ve wanted to give back. So, give some of that additional time you now have back to your community.

#18. SEE YOUR DOCTOR for your annual physical examination. If there is a time to address any health issues, it’s right now.  Get in front of them. You deserve to take care of your body and now is the time.

#19. REACH OUT TO A NEW NEIGHBOR. There is always someone new and lonely in your neighborhood. Reach out to them and get to know them. Make them feel welcome in your area. Give them some info/intel about the best restaurants, coffee shops, and entertainment in the area. They’ll appreciate it. It’s in your blood to HELP people, so go help your neighbors feel welcome and connected.

#20. CALL ANOTHER GOVERNMENT OR CONTRACTOR CO-WORKER and check on them. If they’re struggling, maybe this article will help them and you, which will help you feel better during this time.

For more information, call SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

About the Author:

Sharon P. Johnson is a Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist & Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate. She is a Clinician & CEO of Top Priority Care Services, LLC.  Top Priority Care Services is a mental health and substance abuse agency that have provided comprehensive and specialized services for over 15 years in the community.  Populations served to include school-aged children, adults (veterans, former inmates and individuals with an intellectual developmental disability).  Locations include Winston-Salem (Corporate Office), Greensboro, North Carolina, Maryland (Prince George’s County), and the state of Ohio. Top Priority Care Services has multiple contracts and it can be found on the GSA Schedule 47QREA19D0003. For more information, please visit: www.topprioritycareservices.com


Friedrich, Cathe   (2018) “5 Brain-Boosting Chemicals Released During Exercise.” Retrieved from https://cathe.com/5-brain-boosting-chemicals-released-during-exercise/

Wlassoff, Viatcheslav, (February 4, 2015)  “Can Physical Exercise Improve Cognitive Abilities?”  Retrieved from  http://brainblogger.com/2015/02/04/can-physical-exercise-improve-cognitive-abilities/

Brian HQ  (2019)  “Physical Exercise for the Brain.” Retrieved from https://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/everyday-brain-fitness/physical-exercise

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