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Managing the Stress of Unemployment




Your stress is real

Unemployment often results in psychological challenges, including loss of

  • work-related or professional identity.
  • self-esteem, self-confidence, and/or a sense of self-worth.
  • daily routine, purposeful activity, and/or a sense of control.
  • work-based social networks.
  • financial security.

All of this can lead to discouragement, confusion, demoralization, fear, and self-defeating thoughts that can play havoc with a job search. People with a negative attitude often make a poor impression on others, including those who make hiring decisions. This increases the chances of remaining unemployed.

In contrast, people who project purposeful action, focus, and persistence in their job search can create momentum. An energetic, forward-looking attitude makes a positive impression on people we meet.

Seven strategies to neutralize stress

1. Accept and embrace your new role: jobseeker

In this role, you actually have two broad tasks:

  • Manage your job search. The information and resources on this website and at your local One-Stop Career Center can help you do this.
  • Maintain a positive mindset. Because self-confidence and optimism are vital ingredients for a successful job search, staying positive is as important as the actual job-search activities.

2. Focus on your strengths

Sustain your confidence and self-esteem by intentionally emphasizing the positive.

  • Use the worksheets on the Identify Your Strengths page to identify the capabilities you have that employers will find valuable. Doing this will remind you of your past successes.
  • Track and celebrate the progress you make in achieving short-term goals, developing new skills, and successfully completing the steps or using the resources you’ll find throughout this website.
  • Take pride in your ability to persist in the face of the psychological challenges you’re facing. Unemployment is one of the more difficult situations we can face. Persevering in spite of such difficulties is an achievement in itself.
  • Quickly spot self-defeating thoughts when they occur - and challenge them. If you catch yourself thinking, "I’ll never get a job," respond by telling yourself, "I’m going through a rough stretch, but this will end. I can take specific actions that will bring me closer to finding a job I’ll enjoy. I’m making progress. I have a lot of skills and experience to share. Somewhere out there, there’s a business that will be very fortunate to gain the capabilities that I can offer. I just need to connect with it and educate the hiring decision makers in that organization."
  • Recognize that being unemployed can provide opportunities to discover, acquire or strengthen skills, to rethink your career priorities and to reflect on how you want to spend the next phase of your life. At the very least, you’ll have a chance to practice your problem-solving and planning skills.

3. Develop a productive routine

There’s a lot of truth to the saying that "searching for a job is a full-time job." The information on the Create a Plan of Action page will help you establish a productive routine for launching and sustaining an effective job search.

  • Devote between six and eight hours a day, five days a week, to job search activities.
  • As much as possible, maintain the daily habits you had when you were employed. Get out of bed at the same time you did when you were working, shower and get dressed, leave the TV and other distractions off. Now you can focus on searching for employment opportunities and connecting with employers who are hiring.
  • Each night before you go to bed, make a list of actions you’ll take the following day and the mini-goals you intend to accomplish.

4. Focus on what you can control

Break problems and larger goals into manageable chunks and take effective action on those things. See Create a Plan of Action for details.

  • If you have a job interview, a key meeting, or another important and stressful event coming up, list everything you can do to prepare for it and then work your way through the list. Once you’ve completed all the tasks, relax. If you find yourself worrying about the upcoming event, remind yourself that you’ve done everything you can and that you’re prepared.
  • If you’re dealing with an unfamiliar challenge, identify all the possible options, learn as much as you can about each option, consider the pros and cons for each, and choose the one that makes the most sense. Imagine what could happen if the worst-case scenario happens - and consider what other actions you could take to deal with possible problems.

5. Build and leverage a new social network

  • Don’t let embarrassment or a bruised ego keep you from tapping into the best source of information about employment opportunities: the people you are routinely in contact with. For more ideas, see Nurture and Leverage Your Personal Support Network.
  • Tell everyone you know that you're looking for work, and also tell them about the skills and experience you can offer an employer.
  • Keep track of the contacts that people suggest to you.
  • Spend as much time as possible with positive people and avoid those with persistently negative attitudes.
  • Join a job club or support group. Ask about Jersey Job Clubs and other helpful groups at your local One-Stop Career Center, library, or religious institution.

6. Assess your current spending and income

To reduce the stress caused by financial worries, review your situation and take steps to deal with immediate concerns. Visit the Personal Budget and Financial Assessment and Budget Building Tools and Resources pages for more practical steps you can take to balance spending with your income and resources.

  • List all your regular bills: rent or mortgage, utilities, car or other payments, costs of insurance, usual food costs, etc.
  • List spending that is not fixed: meals or social nights out, movies and other entertainment, transportation, clothing, gifts, etc.
  • Consider ways that you could reduce spending in each category. For example, make your food dollars stretch further, buy clothes at a thrift shop, use less expensive transportation, tap into subsidies for insurance, give gifts of your time or skills, or find other ways to reduce spending.
  • Consider ways that you can supplement your earning power. Can you do any part-time, temporary, or occasional work that doesn’t interfere with your job search? Can you barter skills and services with neighbors?

7. Counteract the stress of unemployment

  • Maintaining your emotional and physical health is the best morale booster.
  • Exercise each day for 30 minutes, if possible. Exercise relieves stress and improves mood.
  • Spend time each week doing things you enjoy. If activities involve others, even better! Those people can become part of your job search network.
  • Volunteer your time and expertise to a cause that you consider worthwhile, or take temporary jobs. You’ll keep your current skills sharp, possibly acquire additional marketable skills, plug gaps in your work history, benefit from social contact, and, again, potentially grow your job search network.
  • Express your feelings in productive ways to a friend or confidant. Some people find it helps to write down their feelings on paper.
  • If you feel that stress or depression are holding you back, contact nonprofit mental health centers and county mental health agencies to ask if they provide free or low-cost counseling. If so, take advantage of their expertise.