The Stress of Unemployment

Managing the Emotional Roller Coaster

There’s no way around it – unemployment is a bumpy, unpredictable emotional roller-coaster ride. Even under the best of circumstances; when you’ve got ample savings, decent job prospects, and a healthy severance package, few people manage to escape the unemployment blues. While you can’t change the unpredictable nature of the ride, there are steps you can take to better manage your reaction to the peaks and valleys you’ll inevitably experience. Here are ten suggestions to help you better manage the anxiety of unemployment:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others: The impact of job loss varies from person to person. It’s likely that a single 25 year-old who lives at home and is thinking about going back to graduate school will react to his/her job loss with a different intensity than a 40 year old single mother who is laid off from the only job she has ever held. But, it’s also true that two people in similar situations may have two totally different reactions to their common loss. Each individual is unique and reacts with a wide range of emotions and behaviors; there is no one right way to handle this transition.
  2. Become part of a support group: As wonderful as family and friends can be, many people find that joining a support group of peers is the most valuable support of all. Interacting with a group of people, who are in your situation and can fully understand what you’re going through, can be an invaluable aid in helping you maintain perspective and a sense of humor during your search.
  3. Be honest about your emotions: Admitting your anger, fear, and frustrations to your support group is the first step toward managing your emotions instead of letting them control you.
  4. Name and Claim the Enemy: Rather than walking around with a vague but continual sense of anxiety, try to figure out what specific things worry you most. By facing what you actually fear (i.e. financial instability, concerns that you’ll never find a comparable position) you can see how realistic your fears are and begin to work on a plan for addressing those issues.
  5. Recognize that Luck Plays a Role in this Process: While it’s hard not to wonder why your friend landed a job quickly while you’re still looking, the answer is that every person’s search proceeds at a unique pace. Luck, timing, market opportunities and a hundred other factors conspire together in mysterious ways. Remember the saying, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
  6. Avoid Negative People: A group of pessimistic nay-sayers will do nothing but reinforce your worst fears. Align yourself with friends and colleagues who think more of you than you think of yourself – their suggestions will inspire, empower, and encourage you to move on in the face of rejection. Sometimes though, even the best-intentioned people don’t know what to say and as a result usually end up saying the wrong thing. Try to remember their intentions are honorable even if their actions are less than helpful.
  7. Take Care of Yourself: Mom was right; it’s important to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. Don’t allow yourself to mope around the house in pajamas all day – project an image that reinforces a positive outlook.
  8. Focus on the Positive: While you can’t change events, you can change how you react to them. Instead of focusing on the negatives on your life, take note of the positive side of unemployment. Whether it’s the opportunity to spend more time with your children, having a chance to explore new career directions or simply being able to sleep past 6 a.m., there is undoubtedly something positive to recognize during this difficult transition.
  9. Keep Busy: There is nothing more depressing than staring at an empty calendar. Schedule your job search activities (i.e. 10 a.m.- 11 a.m.: make cold calls, 2 p.m.- 4 p.m.: work on revising resume, etc.) as you would normal business appointments. If you have blocks of unused time, look in the newspaper for listings of business related meetings, trade shows or seminars that you might be able to attend. Go to the library. Force yourself to get out of the house.
  10. Volunteer: By helping others you’ll help yourself feel more valued. Even if it’s only a few hours each month, the psychological boost of helping those less fortunate can be significant.

Finally, if your sadness feels very profound and does not seem to improve, consider getting professional help. The cost of ignoring depression can be far greater than the cost of getting treatment. Consult your local mental health clinics, social services agencies or professional counselors for help for yourself and family members who are affected by your unemployment.

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