An article on CNN discusses the effects of long-term unemployment on mental health while profiling a software engineer and a photojournalist who haven’t succeeded in landing a job after months of searching. It’s a bleak picture. Unemployment increases the chances of depression and anxiety, and can lead to feelings of apathy, helplessness, anger, and profound self-doubt. It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re well-qualified and out of work in spite of your best efforts. After a while you might begin to wonder if your efforts are worthwhile.
Here are some general tips (several of them mentioned in the article) for staying mentally healthy while unemployed.
- Take good care of yourself. This includes eating well, staying physically active, and getting enough sleep. Do your best not to leave medical or dental problems untended; a number of conditions when neglected become less easily treatable and more expensive to treat with time.
- Connect with other people, not only for networking purposes but also socially (granted, the two overlap). Be sure to make time for people who generally help you feel positive, optimistic, and relaxed. Don’t stay cooped up all day at home.
- Reserve some time for yourself each day or every week to be alone and unplugged from everything, free of other people’s immediate demands.
- Consider returning to school or obtaining some kind of additional skills training, but only if you can strongly justify the investment of time and money and are clear about why you want to enroll in a given program (simply using it as an escape from “real life” is probably a bad idea). For any program you’re looking into, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is it accredited?
- What options are available to me for tuition reduction and other kinds of financial aid (that will hopefully not land me in decades of debt)?
- Would I be offered opportunities to work while enrolled? What’s the track record for finding a job on completion of the program? Are there good career services in place that would offer me help?
- Why is it that I want to get this degree/certification/training?
- What do current and former students say about the program?
- What are the alternatives to obtaining this particular degree or certification? What alternatives exist to the program I have in mind?
- Does this program allow me to make use of previous educational or job experience? (e.g. transfer credits)?
- Do I need to complete the whole program, or can taking a key class or two suffice for my purposes?
- Learn for free online. Here are a couple of good lists of free online educational sites, where you can learn for the pleasure of it, to further your intellectual development, and to expand your job-relevant skills and training: The 100 Best (And Free) Online Learning Tools and 12 Dozen places to Educate Yourself Online for Free. Two of my favorite sites these days are The Khan Academy and Code Year.
- Learn for free offline. Places where I’ve attended free lectures, discussions, and classes have included:
- Public libraries
- Local colleges and other educational institutions
- Historical societies (and other societies of the sort)
- Book stores
- Public parks
- Religious institutions
- Healthcare institutions
- Community centers
These kinds of events are often advertised online and in local magazines and newspapers.
- Volunteer. Opportunities for volunteering exist in practically every field. In addition to giving you the good feeling that comes from helping people and being engaged with the world, volunteering can strengthen or maintain your existing skills and train you in new ones, and also help you make new connections and obtain references.
- Work on projects you’re passionate about. Along with giving you purpose and fulfillment, they might also make money for you or help your future employment prospects (including steady self-employment). Also keep an eye open for (legal) opportunities all around you, short-term and long-term. Maybe there’s a needed service you can offer people based on your skill set and experience.
- Structure your day. In the absence of familiar routines each day can feel shapeless and devoid of direction and purpose. It’s easy for hours to pass unproductively in a blur of T.V. and web-surfing.
You could have a detailed plan for what you want to do every hour, or just make a list of what you hope to accomplish every day, with the most important items given top priority; even if you rarely get to every single item on the list, you’ll at least address the most important ones.
Your daytime plans should be as concrete as possible. For instance instead of saying, “I’ll look for work,” write down the specific actions you’ll take (the people you’ll contact, the applications you’ll fill out, the cover letter you’ll tweak, etc.).
Also account for how you’ll be spending your time when you aren’t looking for work: obligations to family and friends, communal activities, various projects, chores around the house, personal time, sleep. The more disciplined you are, the easier it will be for your mind to stay sharp, focused and active; you’ll know what you need to do and work towards it with purpose.
- Even if you’re feeling down, try not to brood. It’s useless, counter-productive and self-defeating. All those worries whirling around your head, all those negative remarks you’ve heard from others and beaten yourself up with lead nowhere. Find ways to cut off brooding if you start to sink into it – meditate, take a minute or two to just breathe, go for a walk, do some exercise, listen to some music, pray – whatever will keep you from rehashing and picking over the same negative thoughts. Focus your energies on concrete actions; stay open to various ideas.
- Don’t take the situation personally, as a sign that there’s something fundamentally, irredeemably wrong with you. Others might try to make you feel it personally – they might gloat over your struggles or tell you that you aren’t trying hard enough or talk about how easy it was for so-and-so to land a job. Getting hit with these kinds of discouraging remarks can take a toll on your mental health and deplete you of the energy you need to stay productive.
Your uncertain circumstances and lack of employment don’t make you a worthless person. Be open to suggestions and constructive criticism but don’t accept insults. Don’t fall into the trap of measuring yourself against everyone you meet to see how far you fall short, or how much better you are than them. Remember that we’re all human.
People who undermine you in the guise of “helpful” or “motivating” remarks are to be avoided as much as possible; at the very least try to block out their remarks. Spend time with people who genuinely support you and stay engaged in activities that inspire you. Do what you can to stay hopeful and to keep working on yourself with an open and positive outlook.
A link from 2009 with content that’s still relevant today: 100 tips, tools, and resources to help you survive without a job.
Hope Now unemployment resources (part of a general site for homeowners, but the job-related links could apply people who don’t own a home).
Just found this Forbes article – 10 Things You Need to Do While You’re Unemployed (some of the advice overlaps with this post, and there are further suggestions about networking and resume-writing, along with an attitude of self-reliance and making opportunities for yourself).
I hope that at least some of these suggestions have been of use to you. Please feel free to comment with your own thoughts, advice, and experiences.