NEW YORK, OCT. 23 -- They trickled out of the New York Stock Exchange during the day, to grab a bite, to squint at the sun they hadn't seen all week and to breathe a small sigh of relief.

The brokers, the specialists, the clerks and others who took a physical and emotional beating along with the stock market still face a mountain of weekend work.

But as the market slowed and settled down today, a sense of relief swept through the exchange, wiping away some of the weariness. Suddenly, after 600 million share days on Monday and Tuesday, a new scale existed. And, measured by that scale, today's 246 million shares -- though a heavy load by any previous standard -- meant a day to relax, at least in 5 and 10 minute intervals.

"On Wednesday we traded 450 million shares, the third busiest day in the market's history, and people felt like they were working at half-speed," said David V. Shields, managing director of Shields & Co. and a director of the New York Stock Exchange. Thursday, when 392 million shares traded, "was like a holiday, and today is very relaxed," he said.

It was a week that took its toll in lost nerves, lost sleep, lost meals and lost money. When the bell rang and the market closed today, two hours early, a small cheer rang out with the bell. It was over.

"We have employes in here who haven't gone home for three days," said George F. Moerler Jr., a specialist with Stokes Hoyt & Co. who makes a market in the stock of Kraft Inc.

Moerler walked into the NYSE at 9 a.m. Monday, "not bullish" but not expecting the spectacular slide. "The first time I looked at a clock on Monday it was 3:10," he said. "I couldn't even tell you how many shares I traded."

He said, "I didn't eat from Monday to Wednesday."

Moerler watched Kraft stock dive. "I was the only buyer from 45 to 39.5," he said. Specialists, who manage trading in stocks and are required by exchange rules to purchase shares when no other buyer exists, can incur huge losses in such situations. "Luckily, at that point it bounced back," he said.

"The scariest thing is having a lot of money on the line," said Donald R. Foley II, a specialist with Sasker, Stone & Stern.

Financial anxiety clearly took a toll during the week. Shields said his daughter Elizabeth, a college student in California, called during the week and offered to come home and attend community college if things got too rough.

In many respects, sheer volume, rather than whether the market went up or down, was the killer.

"It's incredibly crushing volume. Everybody is sitting there with their tongues hanging out of their mouths," said Craig Curtiss, a clerk with Adler Coleman & Co. who runs a booth on the floor of the exchange. Curtiss said he spent the week getting up at 5 a.m. and rolling home close to midnight.

Curtiss's worst moments came on Wednesday, after the deluge. "I got out of bed and said, can I make it through another day? That was my first thought of the day. Then, in the shower, I said, I think I can. On the train, I said, yes, I can. But then at 2 p.m., I was saying, can I make it to 4 p.m.?"

When NYSE chairman John J. Phelan Jr. appeared before those who work on the floor Thursday morning to read a statement from President Reagan commending their work, there were boos, Curtiss said.

But Phelan's announcement Thursday afternoon that the exchange would close early on Friday, Monday and Tuesday drew cheers, he said.

"The paper is what's killing us. We're still working on Monday stuff," said Sean Kyle, a supervisor for A.G. Edwards & Co. Inc. who is in charge of the company's floor personnel. "It's the volume and the pressure to continue to perform at top speed."

Like others who work on the floor of the exchange, however, Kyle was displaying a certain amount of cheer in spite of the weekend work ahead. It would be easier, he said, with people dressed casually and able to report to work a little later. "Eight in the morning is a lot better than 7 a.m."

"The week has been anxiety, fatigue, wondering whether you're going to be in business," said Lawrence Helfant of Lawrence Helfant Co., a firm that executes arbitrage trading orders. "The only thing you wanted to do this week was to survive."