A shutdown is out of your control, but how you cope with it isn’t

The federal government appears on its way to another shutdown starting Sunday, and that means tens of thousands of federal workers around the DMV will be told to show up for work Monday with no certainty about when they’ll be paid again — or told to just stay home until a budget of some sort is passed.

The amount of frustration and uncertainty around the region is quickly building, leaving federal workers at every income level stressed about the immediate future.

One mental health expert said it’s more than fair to feel that way.

“This is an incredibly, incredibly difficult thing to live through and the impact of a potential government shutdown is going to impact different groups differently,” said Dr. Chetan Joshi, the director of the University of Maryland College Park’s counseling center. “There are certain groups, certain people, families that … due to their marginalized backgrounds, are going to feel the impact of this government shutdown in unique and distinct and more impactful ways.”

Joshi said that, in general, people love “certainty and security,” which are two things a lot of people won’t feel during a government shutdown. The longer it drags on, the worse it gets, and with the circumstances causing the shutdown beyond the control of any rank-and-file federal worker, he said it’s unreasonable to think someone can maintain a perfectly balanced mental state through it all.

But he also said how you choose to cope will determine how well you deal with it.

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“If you find yourself turning to dysfunctional coping strategies, then that’s a red flag … making an already bad situation even worse,” Joshi said.

He said excessive alcohol or drug use would fall into that category.

Instead, he recommended “exercise, social connection, the mindfulness practices, physical activity. All of those things are positive coping strategies.”

Of course, the lack of control someone has is exactly why so many people will be nervously watching their finances if the shutdown lasts too long. As bills and other financial responsibilities pile up, that lack of control and stress can steadily increase.

“It’s important to kind of lean on people and friends and family that we can trust to support us through these difficult times,” he said. “One of the things that I always like to say is ‘connection is prevention.’”

And how that support is expressed can vary from person to person.

“For some people, it could just be actual social connection. For some people, it could be financial support,” Joshi said. “But the more we are able to lean on each other and get to that place, the better we’re going to be able to get through this.”

He also added a sentiment that almost everyone around the region can agree with, which is that “the hope is that none of this happens.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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