Seven ways federal employees can manage stress during the partial government shutdown

January 15, 2019

By Solly Thomas

A federal government shutdown can lead to a sense of powerlessness. You don’t know when the shutdown will end or how you will deal with missing a paycheck.

During my federal career, I lived through a few shutdowns and the anxiety that came along with them. As a coach and mentor to many government leaders, I understand how the current partial government shutdown might be causing tension in your life.

But there are things you can do to feel more in control and reduce your stress during these difficult times.

1. Don’t take it personally. The shutdown is a result of disagreements between Congress and the president over 2019 appropriations. While you are directly affected by the shutdown, you are not the cause of it. It’s important to remind yourself that the work you do is essential and appreciated. 

2. Figure out your stress factors. Often it’s not the situation that causes stress but how you react to it. The better prepared you are to manage your emotions, the better you can manage the situation. You might be concerned about the temporary loss of income. If so, put together a plan to reduce spending, notify your lenders and, if necessary, apply for unemployment. Perhaps you’re more worried about idleness and boredom.

3. Keep in touch with your managers and employees. You’ll hear a lot of things through the media, which could lead to confusion about your organization’s situation. It’s helpful to stay in regular communication with people from your agency or office. That contact also has the power to improve your morale during a challenging and confusing time. People will ultimately forget about the shutdown, but they will not forget how they were treated while it was happening. By communicating with your colleagues, you can provide the support that they need.

4. Find an outlet for your stress.Whether it’s exercise, family time or chores, look for useful and effective diversions to take your mind off the situation.

5. Reach out to friends and coworkers.Keep in touch with people who are in the same situation or have been previously, but try to stay positive. Avoid turning conversations into gripe sessions. If possible,find humor in the situation. Support groups can also help.

6. Don’t follow the news.The news can be light on information and heavy on stress, and the situation won’t necessarily change quickly. Many people will offer their views on the definition of “essential,” and the value of federal programs and workers. It’s best to avoid TV, radio and the internet.

 7. Exercise your rights as a private citizen. You have the right to send letters and emails to your congressional representative—not in your official government capacity, but as a private citizen. Let your representative know your concerns and the impact the shutdown has had on you and your family. 

Solly Thomas has served as an executive coach and instructor for the Excellence in Government Fellows program since 2009.

With more than 30 years of experience in public and private sector leadership and management, Thomas helps participants in the Excellence in Government Fellows program enhance their leadership skills. Listen to Thomas discuss the value of EIG and how the program develops strong government leaders.