How to Cope With Stress When You’re Unemployed

Thanks to COVID-19, the world around us is changing at breakneck speed. Thirty-six million people have filed for unemployment, and the nation as a whole is feeling the pressure as so many are without jobs and without income. While we all wait anxiously for things to get back to normal, many of us are stressed. Without a job, the stress can seem unbearable.

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While I’ve never before lived through a pandemic, I have lived through joblessness. When my husband lost his job, I had a 4-month-old baby and had just left my job to be a stay-at-home mom for a while. We were unemployed for only four months, but it felt like four years. I learned a lot during that time. It’s painful and can be terrifying, but it can also be a time of great learning and personal growth.

If you find yourself suddenly unemployed in a complex and difficult market, try a few of these strategies to deal with the stress of it all.

Don’t obsess

While it can be tempting to exhaust yourself and use every waking moment combing job sites, networking, and updating your resume, this approach proved counterproductive for my family during our time of unemployment. I found that spending every free second (of which you now have so many) with eyes laser-focused on finding a job will only add to the feeling of desperation, and may make your efforts less efficient.

Instead, give yourself “work hours” that you spend on your job search, and at the stroke of 5 p.m. (or whatever time you choose to end your workday — you are the boss for now!), put it all away and try not to think about it until the next day begins. Instead of beating yourself up for wanting to watch Netflix or eat dinner with your significant other, allow yourself to decompress from the job hunt.

While my family was searching for a new start, it was helpful to set it all down each evening, knowing it would be there again the next morning. Try it — it may refresh you for the next day, and will take the mental burden of “needing to find a job ASAP” off of you for a few regular hours each day.

Keep a routine

Just as you “clock out” at closing time, hold yourself to a reasonable routine. Get up and get ready at approximately the same time each day. Get dressed, eat a nourishing breakfast, and prepare yourself for the job search just as you’d get ready for going into the office.

While we weathered the season of job loss, it helped to have a designated “working space” that my husband would go to do necessary job hunting tasks, while I cared for the baby since I was technically on maternity leave. He would then take breaks from that space, just as he would at a job. Treating this time with an optimistic yet flexible schedule helped keep us in a mental place of productivity, as well as moderation.

Find work in other areas of your life

So you don’t have a job that’s paying at the moment. That doesn’t mean you can’t find meaningful work in other areas of your life. Plenty of work that never earns a dime is valuable, necessary, and honorable. Find what you’d love to do that puts your talents and skills to good use and also contributes to the world. 

My family is full of musicians — we practiced skills and technique, and played music just for the fun of it. Maybe you have a green thumb but never had time to truly plan out a garden, or maybe you’d like to learn how to cook everything correctly and have it taste amazing too. Or maybe there’s work to be done in one or many of your relationships— now’s the time to read those spiritual and emotional health books and work on yourself. The excuse of limited time is no longer viable, so put your hours to good use and work on honing a craft or skills that bring you joy and give you a sense of satisfaction.

Finding ways to feel productive and accomplished, if only in the smallest of ways, will do a lot to cut down on the pressure and the stress of being without a job or income.

Be kind

Job loss is never easy, and often brings with it complex emotions. I was personally devastated by the incredibly poor timing of our unemployment. Rather than stuff the emotions down and soldiering on stoically, I let myself feel it all and came to a better place of acceptance and relying on God to provide both peace in my heart, and eventually a job. Allow yourself to feel what you feel — anger, sadness, confusion, despair — there are no “wrong” answers, especially during a stressful time like unemployment. When you let yourself truly grieve the loss of your job, then you can move forward on your new path.

Be kind to yourself in the meantime — exercise, eat healthfully and do things in moderation as you’re on your journey. Remember that it won’t last forever, and that even though you may not see the end in sight, it most certainly is there.

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