Coping with Job Loss

By: Gregory Popcak


Mark has been unemployed for three months and he doesn’t know how much longer its going to be before he finds a job.  Even so, Mark feels   more fortunate than many.  “I knew the layoffs were coming, so we were able to put a little bit aside,” he says, “but it isn’t like we can hold out forever.   We’re getting by with Unemployment, but being out of work is just soul-crushing.”

Mark isn’t alone.   About 28% of households have at least one member looking for full-time work.   While official statistics claim an unemployment rate hovering over 9%, economists say the actual rate (which includes people who have just given up looking or settling for part-time employment) is closer to 17%. On average, it takes an unemployed worker an average of 33 weeks to find a job.  Despite these gloomy economic predictions, there is hope for those who know where to look for it.   If you or someone you love is going through a period of unemployment, consider the following suggestions to help weather the storm.

1–Deal with Your Emotions.

Grief, anger, depression and anxiety all are unpleasant traveling companions that accompany joblessness.   A lot of people try to ignore their feelings when setbacks come.   They think, “there’s nothing I can do about it, so why bother getting emotional?”   I’ve had hundreds of clients who, having been through some pretty difficult times, say to me, “I don’t want to have to think about that stuff.   It’s too depressing!”  Of course, I sympathize, but the problem is, refusing to deal directly   with our emotions can cause us to find inappropriate ways to vent the emotional stress.   It is not uncommon for people who would rather not face their feelings to, instead, lash out at family and friends, isolate, abuse alcohol and other substances, or even lose their faith.

It can be unpleasant to face the difficult feelings that attend unemployment but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.   A simple two-step exercise can make all the difference.   First, each day, take five minutes to rate your sense of well-being on a scale of 1 (terrible) to 10 (I feel great!).   Next, ask yourself to name one small thing you could do to boost your well-being score by at least one point.   Generally speaking, focus on activities that help you exercise your gifts, reach out to others, further your job search, or improve your health instead of simple activities that “give you a break”   (like watching TV or pigging out on junk food).   Activities like prayer, doing something thoughtful for a family member or friend, working on your resume/follow a lead, exercising or doing some other healthy activity are all great examples of things that can boost your sense of well being.

“This exercise has really made a huge difference in my life.” Says Mark. “When I first got laid off, I had a tendency to sort of sit and stare at the walls or the TV.   I was totally checked out.   But taking my emotional temperature and intentionally doing something to try to be a little healthier, more productive or more connected made be feel like I could at least control something.   That’s made all the difference in the world.

2–Focus on Relationships

People have a tendency to isolate when we are going through difficult times.   We might be afraid of dragging people down, or of the questions people ask that make us rehash our struggle to find a job.   That’s understandable, but cocooning is the worse thing we can do.   Remember, Genesis tells us, “It is not good for man to be alone.”   We were created for relationships, and when we’re going through tough times, the support relationships can give us is inestimable.  In the first place there is a practical benefit to shoring up your relationships during unemployment.   Depending on your level and occupation, 50-85% of positions are filled through social networks, not want ads.   Getting out means getting hired.

Second, study after study shows that people who maintain strong relationships with others–especially through difficult times–handle stress better and are less likely to succumb to depression, anxiety disorders and other psychological problems.   People make you impervious to stress.   And the benefit you can receive from social relationships goes double for church attendance.   Abundant research shows that weekly Church attendance makes people more stress-resistance and resilient.   Actively participating in a faith community reminds you that your worth is dependent upon greater things than your job status.  Finally, the more we can look for ways to serve others the more effective we can feel in life, and that’s a powerful antidote to the overwhelming sense of powerlessness and worthlessness that can accompany joblessness.

Alison’s company closed due to poor sales.   She’s been looking for fulltime work for about 6 months.   “There are lots of days that I feel like crying, and sometimes I do, but more and more I’m challenging myself on the days I feel lousy to do something for someone else just to get out of my own head. I volunteer for my kid’s school, or help our at the church.   Sometimes, I bake cookies for an elderly lady down the street.   It makes me feel good to do something and feel like I’m making at least a little bit of a difference in someone’s life.  

3–Take Care of Yourself

With unemployment comes a strong temptation to let your self-care go.   People often sleep in, dress down and otherwise act as if they are on an extended–albeit miserable–vacation.  Studies consistently show that people who take care of themselves and treat searching for a job as if it was, itself, a full time job get hired much more quickly than others.   Get up as if you were going to work every day.   You don’t have to wear a suit, but dress well-enough that people who see you in a casual context would not think twice about hiring you or recommending you to someone else.  Of course, another dimension to taking care of yourself is maintaining your spiritual health.   We’ve already discussed the importance of staying connected to your faith community, but don’t forget to keep up with your prayer and sacramental life.

A lot of unemployed individuals struggle with anger at God for their situations.   I say, “Tell God about it.”   If you need to yell, yell!   If you need to shout, shout!   If you need to cry, cry.   People are often afraid of being as honest with God as we need to be, as if God will strike us dead for telling him what we really think.   Nothing could be further from the truth.   Jesus describes the kind of relationship he wants with us when he says, “No longer servants, but friends.”   You don’t hide feelings from a friend.   You trust that friend with your feelings and talk about those feelings in the hope that you friend will give a new perspective or new insights.   Don’t forget to give God the same courtesy of being honest that you would give your best friend.

Bill has been unemployed for about 6 weeks.   To help cope, he works hard at maintaining a good schedule.   “I get up at 7 every morning, get showered and dressed and look over the stuff I need to do that day–especially any job-hunting related calls or things I need to do.’  Bill also takes what he calls, “A daily walk with God.   After I go over what needs to be done, I take a walk around the neighborhood and just talk to God about where I’m at, what I need his help with.   It probably sounds a little crazy, but sometimes I’ll talk to him out loud.   I don’t know what the neighbors think of me, but no one’s called the cops yet, so I guess its ok!     Seriously, if I didn’t take that time for myself and to talk with God, I don’t know what I’d do.   It’s really helping me hang tough.”

4–Take Stock

Believe it or not, joblessness can have certain benefits. It can give you the breather you need to consider new directions, learn important things about yourself, and strengthen relationships that suffered because of your work commitments.   It can give you a chance to investigate new career opportunities, start a business of your own, or recommit yourself to a career you were burning out on.

Jackie worked as an editor for a technical publishing company.   When they downsized, she found herself out of work after 18 years at the same company. “It was devastating, but as I got over the shock I started asking myself if I really wanted to keep doing what I’d been doing all these years and, if so, how?     I thought about changing careers.   Maybe going back to school for a business degree or something, but after really thinking it through I decided I really did love what I did, I just didn’t want to do it where I was doing it before.   I had a friend who worked as a writer for a healthcare company.   I thought that might be interesting.   I’ve been doing some research on how to reach out to that market with my skills.   For the first time in several years, I feel kind of excited about where I’m going.   Instead of coasting through it every day, I’m challenging myself.   I won’t say it isn’t terrifying, but it isn’t boring!”

The Bottom Line.

There’s no way to slap a smiley face on the experience of joblessness.   It stinks and nothing you will do will probably make you happy to be out of work.   But if you can maintain your relationships, stay on   top of your emotional, personal, and spiritual well-being, and look for opportunities to challenge yourself to be a blessing to others and take advantage of any new opportunities that come your way, you may be able to take what is otherwise a challenging time and turn it into a time that changes your life for the better.

If you or someone you know is struggling with joblessness and the related issues that come with it, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and get the help you need to succeed.

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