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Emergency Information → Resources → Mental Health: Coping with cumulative stress

Tips for Adults: Coping with cumulative stress

From the Office of Student and Community Services, Department of Student Services

As the community continues to cope with a crisis, many people may begin to show signs of the cumulative effects of stress. Stress from one incident may not be fully resolved before another incident occurs and triggers stress once again.

It is very important that all of us are aware of our own stress levels and work to lower them when necessary, especially when we are charged with supporting children. As parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, crisis responders, or other educators, caring for ourselves is an essential first step to taking care of our children. There are warning signs that individuals can identify as a result of repeated exposure to stress.

Signs of cumulative stress

Early warning signs Mild signs Extended signs Severe signs
  • Boredom
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory problems
  • Increased illness
  • Relationship problems
  • Increased alcohol/drug use
  • Performance changes
  • Fear of leaving home
  • Relationship changes
  • Health changes
  • Personality changes
  • Becoming housebound

It is critical to address signs of cumulative stress as soon as they begin. Contact the Montgomery County Crisis Center at 240-777-4000 if you have concerns about how you are reacting. The employee assistance program at your workplace is another source of support, as is your family physician. (Montgomery County Public Schools' Employee Assistance Program: 301-460-2100)

What helps?

Activating some healthy coping strategies can ease the cumulative effects of stress:

  • Create a daily routine to help regain a sense of control.
  • Eat balanced, healthy meals.
  • Get extra rest to let your body relax and recover.
  • Exercise.
  • Let frustration and anger out through safe, exhausting physical activity.
  • Ask for support from friends, colleagues, and loved ones.
  • Avoid alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.
  • Limit caffeine.
  • Don't dwell on news of the crisis. Gather the information you need, then turn off the TV or radio.
  • Be aware of the impact of your own past experiences on your current functioning.
  • Seek mental health assistance when you are concerned about your reactions.


  • Some behavior change following a crisis is a typical response to an extraordinary situation.
  • Behavior changes following a crisis are generally temporary.
  • Each person responds to crisis in different ways and moves through the crisis at his or her own pace.
  • You are not alone. Many in will share these reactions and feelings.
  • It is a sign of strength - not weakness - to ask for help when it is needed.

Sources and resources

The Montgomery County Crisis Center is a free resource available 24 hours/7 days each week. Call 240-777-4000.