Sudden unemployment can shatter your sense of self and cause numerous health problems, especially if you ignore your own needs and make the sole focus of your life finding a job. This is a good and necessary use of time but should be balanced by activities that help you maintain a healthy sense of self.

Below are some suggestions about how to care for yourself while navigating the uncertain waters of unemployment.

Develop an accurate interpretation

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Research by psychologist Marty Seligman demonstrates that the most significant factor influencing success following setbacks of any kind is how we choose to interpret them.

It is common to feel like a failure following a job loss. Seligman suggests that those who interpret losing their job as a sign of personal failure are far more likely to struggle to regain their footing and focus on an effective job search than those who interpret the loss as an unfortunate event that was beyond their control and not personal in nature.

Again, sudden job loss can leave you stunned and disoriented. Allow yourself the natural feelings that come with this type of experience, but don’t expend energy you will need later beating yourself up over an event you had no control over. Develop an interpretation that acknowledges the loss, but moves you to a place where you can see the opportunities your new situation provides. Job loss is terrible but can create a space for you to perform self-reflection, evaluate what is truly important to you, and create a vision for what you want the next stage of your life to look like.

Build structure and goals into your day

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” 

Abraham Lincoln

Sudden unemployment can feel like the onset of a freezing, brutal winter. While it’s tempting to do what I did and stay in your sweatpants eating peanut butter out of the jar while watching NCIS reruns all day, a better course of action is to intentionally build structure into your life. Without structure and goals, the days can start to run together because familiar routines created by having a job have been removed.

Set aside specific times to work on your job search, but make this part of a larger daily ecosystem that includes other life-giving activities. Each morning spend time writing down two or three clearly defined activities that will have the greatest possible impact on your life that day. Share this plan with a friend or family member who can hold you accountable.

Unemployment can make you feel helpless and confused. By creating and following a daily plan you take charge of your time and efforts, and this results in feelings of empowerment and clarity. Resist the temptation to overload your schedule. Here’s your chance to stop fire-fighting and strip things down so you can create real momentum.

Keep your goals ambitious and laser-focused, but flexible and realistic. You are going to have to relearn how to manage your time, and the last thing you need is a pile of unfinished tasks whispering lies in your ear at the end of the day.

Maintain personal hygiene

“Ya know what I do every day? I wash. Personal hygiene is part of the package with me.”

Jim Carrey

When unemployed you will suddenly find yourself spending a lot more time at home. This can be for practical purposes such as conducting your job search, but can also be the result of job-loss related depression.

When I was unemployed, I found myself so wrapped up in applying for jobs and agonizing over every word in my resume or LinkedIn profile that I fell into a habit of skipping my morning hygiene routine. I was eventually able to get back into the habit, and even if I had nowhere to be it helped me feel like my life had structure.

You may begin to isolate yourself from others due to feelings of embarrassment, anxiety, or low energy levels. If you have nowhere to go and no one to see, you may see no reason to shower, shave, brush your teeth or take care of the other basics. Donald Novey, MD and integrative physician notes that “Practicing good body hygiene helps you feel good about yourself, which is important for your mental health.”

Exercise

“I think if you exercise, your state of mind is usually more at ease, ready for more mental challenges.”

Stone Gossard

Exercise should be scheduled as a daily goal, even if you aren’t an exerciser. Exercise produces chemicals that fight off depression and will increase your sense of well-being. Physical activity also provides a healthy outlet for feelings of frustration and can improve the quality of your sleep.

Take a walk around the neighborhood and get some sun. Go to the gym and commit 30-60 minutes to working out. Get out for a hike, shovel snow, ride a bike, or play with your children. Get creative and find ways to get your heart rate up and break a sweat. This is crucial to relieving stress and will build focus, confidence, and self-esteem.

Seek and maintain community

“Social connection is such a basic feature of human experience that when we are deprived of it, we suffer.”

Dr. Leonard Mlodinow

After a job loss, you may be tempted to isolate yourself. Feelings of shame, fear, or anxiety may cause you to avoid social contact. Keeping to yourself is a natural urge, but can be one of the worst things you can do when unemployed.

Isolation breeds loneliness, and loneliness can fuel depression.

Your friends, family, and other social groups are your allies during this time. Instead of withdrawing, move towards others and invite them into your struggle. Build social engagement into your schedule if you have to. When unemployed, your thoughts about yourself can become negative and distorted.

You will find your community cares about you and can serve to remove these distortions by reminding you of who you really are and the great things you have to offer. They may not be able to solve your problems but will stand with you and provide support during a difficult season.

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