As someone who’s on the search for your next position, you’re likely experiencing stress. After all, you’re going through it: your life has changed. You no longer have a stable source of income, you’re struggling to find a job, you’re living your ‘new normal.’
You’ve reached the point of exhaustion with your unemployed life. Still, stress aside, you’re focused on getting a job fast. You feel you can’t stop and calm down because you need money now.
But, please, reconsider this feeling. I’ve been there. And believe me: stopping to calm down and manage your stress isn’t a bad thing to do, when done in a healthy manner.
Losing a job (or role) and finding a job is stressful. When it comes to looking for employment, 83% of global working adults feel the job search is stressful, according to the results of a HIRED study. Imagine the percentage rate among those unemployed.
So below, we’ll discuss everything you must know about unemployment and stress. Upon reading, hopefully, you’ll understand its impacts and the importance of stress management for improving the quality of your life.
The Definition of Stress and Unemployment Stressors
First, let’s consider the definition of stress. The National Institutes of Health defines stress as “a physical and emotional reaction that people experience as they encounter changes in life.” Altogether, stress affects your thoughts, your moods, your conduct, and your body.
You already know: unemployment is a traumatic experience, which affects every aspect of your life. It isn’t easy to accept the reality of your change, especially in the beginning. And, it’s common to experience overwhelming fear and anxiety about your finances and career, among others.
Several things can become stressors:
- Financial Anxieties.
- Uncertainty of Unemployment.
- Career Fears.
- Pressure to Find a Job in This Economy.
- Lack of Control.
And guess what?
Your body responds, like it’s under attack, when faced with these stressors. And what happens, according to the American Psychological Association, is: “your body kicks into gear, flooding the body with hormones that elevate your heart rate, increase your blood pressure, boost your energy and prepare you to deal with the problem.”
When these stressors affect you daily, for a lengthy period, without management, chronic stress takes over, keeping your body continually in fight or flight mode.
(You can watch the video, How Stress Affects Your Body, by Sharon Horesh Bergquist via TED-Ed, below to learn more about your body’s response.)
Why Is Unemployment Stress Problematic?
What’s the result of your body staying in fight or flight mode? Negative impacts on your health and well-being.
Let’s discuss the mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical impacts – one by one.
Mentally (and Cognitively):
You might not know it, but too much stress can affect your brain, resulting in brain shrinkage. Research shows: stress can lead to brain freezing, negatively influencing your thinking and decision making. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious conditions, including:
- Memory Problems.
(You can learn more by watching the video below entitled, How Stress Affects Your Brain, by Madhumita Murgia via TED-Ed.)
Chronic stress can also impact your emotions.
You see: you have many thoughts daily. The temptation to dwell on negative thoughts is strong, especially when you’re unemployed.
There’s a struggle between negative and positive thoughts, and your wide ride of emotions can quickly go from: angry, fearful, discouraged, disappointed, frustrated, rejected, shameful, and uncertain to joyful, courageous, encouraged, happy, serene, esteemed, and hopeful. And back again.
As a result, you’ll feel:
- Low or Down.
Notice yourself sleeping a little more or less than usual? A little angrier throughout your unemployment period?
Stress might be affecting your mental and physical behavior as well. These behavioral changes include:
- Binge or Under Eating.
- Negative Thought Patterns.
- Addictive Behaviors.
- Anger Issues.
Physically, long-term stress can affect a few of your body’s organ systems, resulting in several health problems, such as:
- Hair Loss and Shedding; Burning Skin (Integumentary System).
- Headaches (Muscular and Nervous Systems).
- Panic Attacks (Respiratory System).
- Heart Burn, Stomach Pain, Diarrhea, or Constipation (Digestive System).
- Heart Disease or High Blood Pressure (Cardiovascular System).
Knowing these effects, it’s important to implement techniques to reduce your levels of stress daily. But, it starts with recognizing the signs of your stress.
The Signs and Symptoms of Unemployment Stress
The American Psychological Association’s latest Stress in America report finds:
“The percentage of Americans who reported experiencing at least one symptom of stress over the past month rose from 71 percent in August 2016 to 80 percent in January 2017.”
Thing is, the symptoms aren’t always recognizable. To reduce your stress levels, though, you must first identify them.
Now, I must note: signs and symptoms differ from one person to the next. But, read through the following five signs and symptoms of stress. If you’re experiencing any, then it’s time to consider strategies for management.
- Bodily Pains. If you’re experiencing bodily pains, in your head, muscles, chest, or stomach, for example, stress could be the cause. Consider relieving your stress aches on your own. But, see your doctor for testing, advice, and treatment, if the pains continue.
- Insomnia. Research shows: “stressful life events are closely associated with the onset of chronic insomnia and are mediated by certain predisposing personality factors.” Insomnia falls into three main categories: transient (lasts no longer than a week), acute (lasts two weeks to a month), and chronic (lasts longer than a month). Insomnia can negatively impact your health and should be treated with a good insomnia behavior program.
- Anxiety. The difference between stress and anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, is: “. . . stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress.” Stress and anxiety management is necessary when they affect your life, leaving you in constant worry and fear.
- Fatigue. Long-term unemployment and a prolonged job search can result in mental exhaustion. And, the bodily impacts of stress can leave you feeling fatigued and tired. The National Institutes of Health links fatigue to several emotions, including: anxiety, grief, personal or financial stress, and loss of control. It’s helpful to minimize the effects of unemployment fatigue, so it doesn’t affect the daily energy you need to get things done.
- Mood Swings. You’re likely to experience up and down moods, while you’re unemployed. You can easily go from hopeful to fearful. Cheerful to Cheerless. Elated to Unhappy. When you control your stress, you control your mood swings. However, if your mood swings are affecting different aspects of your life, then you should consider medical help from a doctor or mental health professional.
Interested in identifying more signs and symptoms? Check out the American Institute of Stress’ 50 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress.
Three More Things You Must Know About Unemployment Stress
To this point, you’ve advanced your knowledge on: the stress of unemployment, the impacts of stress, and its signs and symptoms. Now, there are three more things you must know, before exploring stress management tips.
One. Your Personality Can Increase Your Vulnerability to Stress.
As briefly referred to above, research shows your personality plays a part in how you handle stress. In his book, Essentials of Managing Stress (pp. 59-60), Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D., Health Psychologist, discusses two personality types: stress prone and stress resistant.
According to Dr. Seaward, stress prone personalities “. . . not only do poorly in stressful situations, but with low self-esteem, they actually tend to attract more stress into their lives.” These personalities include Type A, Type D, Co-dependent, and Helpless-Hopeless.
Stress resistant personalities, on the other hand, in the words of Dr. Seaward, “. . . tend to let small things roll off their backs and deal with big problems in a very positive way.” These personalities include Hardy, Survivor, and the Calculated Risk Taker.
Two. Your Perception Can Change Your Stress Levels.
Now, while it’s helpful to know your personality type, also know you can change your perception and lessen the effects of stress.
The Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary defines perception as: “the way you think about or understand someone or something.” So, and I say this often here on the blog, how you perceive unemployment affects your response to it.
If your perception of unemployment is negative, then you’ll find it harder to accept and cope. You’ll see it as a threatening situation rather than a challenging opportunity, lose all hope for change, and allow stress to take over your life.
No worries, though. You can change your negative perception of unemployment and adjust, if you choose. So, I encourage you to:
- Reflect on Your Beliefs, Ideas, and Feelings About Yourself, Your Life, and Your Unemployment Situation. How do you see yourself? Are you regressing backward or moving forward as the result of your beliefs and thoughts?
- Pay Attention to Your Self-Talk. Are your thoughts mostly negative and untruthful? If so, then are you fostering them, or replacing them with positive, truthful thoughts?
- Focus on What’s Good in Your Life with Gratitude. Finding things to complain about isn’t a hard thing to do while you’re going through unemployment. But, cultivating gratitude is uplifting. Practicing gratitude is challenging some days, but brings a focus to everything good in life from a heart of thanks to God.
Remember, your perception influences your attitude. And, your attitude matters in unemployment.
Three. You Can Manage Your Stress.
This is clear:
With the pressures of unemployment and finding a job, you can easily become stressed out.
Without management, though, this stress has the potential to destroy your overall well-being.
One of the best things you can do is: handle your stress before it reaches high levels.
And, I have good news. You can find ways to cope with unemployment stress, handling it before it becomes too much.
So, how can you relieve your unemployment stress? How can you persevere, without staying in fight or flight mode?
5 Tips for Managing the Stress of Unemployment
Below, I’ll provide five stress management tips for your consideration. I understand everyone handles and responds to stressors in different ways. But, upon reading, I hope you’ll find a few helpful.
1st Stress Management Tip: Care for Your Whole Being.
Unemployment isn’t easy. And taking care of yourself might be one of the last things you consider important.
But, it’s more important than you think, which is why I talk about it a lot here on the blog. I even devoted a whole article (11 Healthy Ways to Take Care of Your During Unemployment) to it – providing several ways to care for yourself, including:
- Seek Solitude. What better way to take care of yourself than prioritizing silence and solitude. If you never withdraw (from the TV, from your laptop, from your telephone, or from other distractions), then you’ll never enjoy the benefits of solitude: rejuvenation, peace and strength, reflection.
- Feed Your Body Its Fuel. Food is the fuel your body needs for energy, growth, bone and muscle-building, and task performances. So, don’t forget to eat your food daily – and reduce your chances of frustration and irritation, due to a lack of food.
- Quench Your Thirst With Water. Water is a healthy drink. It prevents dehydration, helps your kidneys, and provides energy. So, pay attention to your thirst and drink water.
- Get the Sleep You Need Nightly. Like food and water, sleep also energizes. You want to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night, if you can. The National Sleep Foundation provides a few healthy sleeping tips:
- Stick to a Sleep Schedule.
- Practice a Relaxing Bedtime Schedule.
- Wind Down.
- Stay Physically Active. Inactivity increases your risks for obesity, anxiety, and hypertension. So, it’s helpful to stay active, throughout this time. You can remain active in several ways:
- Running or Jogging.
- Parking and Walking.
- Engage in a Hobby. You’re interested in relieving your unemployment stress, right? Make time for a hobby. Please don’t stay away from a hobby (or hobbies) you enjoy, because of unemployment. This engagement will keep you productive and take your mind off your difficulty for a while.
- Tickle Your Funny Bone. Get a good, wholesome laugh, whenever you can. No, it won’t change your unemployment situation. But, it’ll “facilitate your stress,” put you in a happy place, and replenish your zapped energy.
Two more important ways to care for your whole being:
- Dedicate Time to Prayer and Scriptural Meditation. For the Believer, it’s important to pray and meditate on truth, which comes from the Word of God. These gifts alone bring wisdom, peace, hope, joy, gratitude, strength. They’ll not only help you spiritually, but mentally, emotionally, and physically also.
- Accept Help (If You Need It). If you have a more serious form of stress and need help with stress management (and you have free or affordable options), then seek help from a doctor, counselor, therapist, and/or mental health professional. Additionally, if you need help in other areas of life (and someone is genuinely willing to help you), then do what’s best for you and accept help.
2nd Stress Management Tip: Engage in Attitude Reflection Daily.
Above, I wrote: your perception influences your attitude, and your attitude matters in unemployment.
Why does it matter? Because it determines how you respond to its challenges every day. And – I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise – it can help or hurt your ability to cope with stress.
Your attitude is within your area of control. Every day, you choose whether it’s good or bad. Negative or positive. Optimistic or pessimistic.
Truth is, maintaining a bad attitude is easier when you’re unemployed. Your perception can be heavily influenced by: your society and culture, your failures, your family (and others you know or meet), the mass media. These are strong influences.
So strong, they can send you down a cycle of negative thinking. This cycle can trigger various emotions and result in a bad attitude about:
- Your Life.
- Your Unemployment Situation.
- Your Career.
- Your Status in Life.
Here’s the thing about a bad attitude. It only adds to the stress you’re dealing with under this unemployment pressure.
There’s good news here, though. If you’ve been walking around with a bad attitude, then you can change it with time and commitment, if you choose.
It starts with awareness. Engaging in daily reflection is a good way to examine your thoughts. To determine your attitude.
What are your thoughts about yourself, your life, your unemployment situation, your career? How are they affecting your health and well-being? Your life right now? Your interactions with others? Your ability to cope? Your job search?
How are these thoughts affecting your behavior? Are you regressing backward or moving forward? Are you learning and growing?
You’ll have negative thoughts and emotions, bad days, and low moods. No doubt about it.
This, however, is why reflection is important. Upon recognizing your bad (thoughts and) attitude, you can make the transformation from bad to good.
A good attitude lowers your unemployment stress. It helps you:
- See Unemployment From a Different Perspective.
- Cope With Unemployment and Your Job Search Effectively.
A couple ways to develop a good attitude:
- Identify Destructive Thoughts, Take Hold of Them, and Replace Them with Truth. By now, in this article, you know your thoughts influence your attitude. If untruthful thoughts feed your brain, without you speaking truth to them, then you won’t have a good attitude. Make an effort to learn the truth and use it to motivate you onward.
- Remember Things You’re Grateful For. I wrote about cultivating gratitude above. Still, it’s worth repeating here. Gratitude, in itself, is an attitude. A good attitude. A practice of gratitude brings remembrance to the good things you have daily, with expressions of thanks to God.
- Stay Away From Negative Influences. As stated above, society and culture, family (and others), and media can influence perception. If these are negative influences for you, you might find it helpful to stay away from them, when you can. You want nothing to increase your levels of stress. Nothing to prevent you from coping with unemployment in a healthy way.
Unemployment causes stress. How you respond to it is dependent on your attitude.
What better way to go on than with a good attitude?
3rd Stress Management Tip: Shift Your Focus to Things You Control.
What’s the one mistake many of us make?
We focus on things we can’t control.
You can’t control the economy, the labor market, the hiring processes of employers, the employers’ thoughts about you, the thoughts of those around you (because you’re unemployed), the competition.
And you know what? Focusing on them increases your stress levels.
The better option is to focus on your area of control. You control: your attitude, your behavior, your beliefs and perceptions, your job search efforts, your personal growth and development, your reactions, yourself (see the 2nd tip above).
So, it’ll take effort but shift your focus to these things. Change and improve what you can – on your part. Don’t worry about the things you can’t.
4th Stress Management Tip: Check Out for Refreshment.
Imagine dealing with the challenges of unemployment, without stepping away to reenergize.
That would be tiring, wouldn’t it? Yes. You need to check out of stressing activities and check into rejuvenating activities.
Now, several times, I’ve written about how I learned to take breaks – the hard way. It relates to job searching.
Upon becoming unemployed, I wanted to quickly reenter the workforce. And, let me tell you: I worked hard at: not only learning everything I could about the job search process, but applying this knowledge.
The issue? I worked at this process constantly. I didn’t consider the importance of breaks, not one time. Why? I had a goal to accomplish (as quickly as possible), so I didn’t want to be lazy.
Guess what happened? I burned out. I didn’t realize it for a long time, but I’d overcommitted myself to the process of finding a job.
With time, I learned the importance of checking out. Taking breaks. Engaging in other things.
So, to you, I’d say: make time for productive breaks, throughout the day (micro breaks), and at other times, like weekends and holidays (macro breaks), according to your needs. Refresh yourself through things you enjoy, such as:
- Helping Someone Around You.
- Engaging in a Hobby (See the 1st Tip Above).
- Cleaning and Organizing.
- Spending Social Time with Family.
- Listening to or Watching Podcasts or Videos (Of Interest to You).
- Getting Some Fresh Air.
If you suffer from the guilt I suffered regarding breaks, then please understand: breaks restore mental, emotional, and physical energy.
Just make sure you don’t use your break time as a form of procrastination. When it’s time to do something, check back in and do it.
5th Stress Management Tip: Set and Maintain Boundaries.
Setting and maintaining boundaries are both helpful in relieving unemployment stress.
Care to identify one area where setting and maintaining limits are important? Yes, your job search.
Now, I know you might be thinking: “I need a job urgently. I must look and apply for jobs all day – every day.”
But, how has the limitless job search been affecting you?
Have you become annoyed? Frustrated? Tired (of the job search, looking at applications, looking at the laptop)? Stressed?
If you answered yes, then it’s time to not only create job search boundaries, but also maintain them. Following are two ways to do so:
- Set Limits for Yourself. You might benefit from the creation of a schedule. It’ll help you determine which part of the day you’ll dedicate and how much time you’ll spend on your job search every day. It’ll also provide the time limits you’ll need to look for jobs, without overworking yourself – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
- End Your Job Search Activities As Scheduled. Give your best efforts to the job search within your scheduled time daily. But, when you’ve determine an end time, through scheduling, stick to it. Use the time – away from your job hunt – to work on a skill-building activity or hobby. If you’ve reached the point of frustration, burnout, and inefficiency, then this will help you relieve stress. (I must note: You might make exceptions and work on your job search tasks longer than scheduled sometimes. It’s cool when you feel up to it.)
Job hunting adds to the toll of unemployment. It’s stressful. And, setting and maintaining healthy boundaries helps you reduce your job search stress.
But, don’t stop with your job search. Also set healthy boundaries in other areas of your life, where you need them.
The challenges of unemployment (which includes job hunting) can increase your stress levels. This stress can negatively impact your health and well-being. So, its management is important.
I’ve provided five stress management tips for your consideration: care for your whole being, engage in attitude reflection daily, shift your focus to things you control, check out for refreshment, and set and maintain boundaries.
But, here’s the thing: the process of relieving stress varies by individual. I’ve found these strategies helpful, but you might not.
What matters, however, is: you find what works for you, through testing. I’ve provided these five as examples for you to try.
Once you find what works, you can keep your stress levels down – and move forward in the healthiest way possible.
(Consider: seeking help, with the management of your unemployment stress, from a qualified professional, if you need it.)