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How to manage stress and avoid depression whilst being unemployed

On in three unemployed people will experience mental health issues.  When you find yourself between jobs and under huge pressure to find new employment as quickly as possible, stress and anxiety are real dangers. Attending loads of interviews and receiving rejections—or, worse, getting no response— is often discouraging, especially when the interviews seemed to have gone well, and feelings of frustration, anger, and depression can develop. Anxiety often accompanies these feelings: What if I mess up this interview? What if I can’t find a job? How will I pay my bills? How will I provide for my family? Would I lose my friends’ and family’s respect?

These thoughts can be debilitating. They may take over, become obsessive, keeping you up at night, affecting your mood, and causing more stress. These types of patterns also have the potential of diminishing productivity, create brain fog and lack of focus, all of which are likely to have a negative impact on the job-hunting process.

Recognising symptoms of depression and anxiety

Losing a job is much like losing a loved one. Many people grieve the loss of their job and then become angry. Once they’ve worked through all of their emotions, they pick up the pieces and get on with things. Sometimes though, unemployment depression sets in and it takes a little more motivating to move forward. Learn to identify depression triggers and symptoms.  Feeling low, having difficulty falling or remaining asleep, lacking motivation are all normal responses to the trauma associated with job loss and unemployment. If you are worried or unhappy you should consider seeking support to help you through this difficult period.

Sometimes, these feelings may be indicators of clinical depression, particularly if you are feeling down for a longer period (more than two weeks) or if you’re finding it difficult to manage day-to-day life.

Other symptoms to look for include:

• Insomnia or broken sleep and/or low level of energy

• Reduced self-esteem

• Changes in appetite

• Reduced libido

• A lack of motivation

• Emotional instability

• A lack of pleasure in activities which are normally enjoyable

• Difficulty concentrating


Anxiety can also be an issue. There are different kinds of anxiety, each with its own symptoms, but some key signs to look out for are:

• Experiencing enduring feelings of worry dread or anxiety

• Struggling to relax

• Constantly worrying about things which may seem unimportant or trivial to others

• Avoiding people or situations which may make you feel anxious

• Having recurring distressing episodes, such as nightmares, related to a traumatic experience

• Experiencing sudden, intense panic and/or anxiety that makes you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope


Having some of these symptoms does not mean you are depressed or suffering from anxiety: many are just normal responses to stressful or upsetting experiences. You may, however, consider seeking professional support to help you manage these feelings, especially if they are unsettling your well-being.

In order to improve your outlook and ability to think clearly, deeply, and strategically during your job hunt, try the following tips:

Take a Break

No one likes losing their job, unless they’ve hated it in the first place. Don’t look at it as personal failure. Whether you like it or not, you've just been given a mini vacation. More than likely, you needed the rest. Use the first few days to take inventory and relax. You’ll have plenty of time to work around the clock. Watch a movie with your kids. Finish the planned project for the backyard. Find something meaningful and enjoy the extra time off from work.


But don’t get too comfortable

Relaxing is great. Just remember your goals. Don’t get too comfortable catching up on missed Netflix shows. Use your time wisely and efficiently. Just because the paycheck stopped doesn’t mean you don’t have work to do. Treat your new life as a job.


Make a distinction between planning and Doing

When you are anxious about your career prospects, you are likely to find yourself wanting to do something—anything—to find a job. But anxiety can narrow your thinking enormously. You may find yourself drawing list after list, plan after plan, yet never able to complete these tasks. Separating planning from doing can make it easier to stay productive and focused on attainable objectives or goals. Planning the steps, you intend take in the following days and weeks can be helpful but carrying out the steps you’ve listed is likely to help you feel a sense of achievement, as well as it may pay off in the form of a job.


Jot It Down

Make an allowance for specific time every evening to write down how you will make the best use of the following day. Doing it in the evening is key. Because if you try doing it in the morning, there is a sense of urgency that compels you to just do something, and this is likely to reduce your focus rather than increase it.  In practical terms, get a writing pad so your plan can be by your bedside when you wake up and so you can cross things off when you finish them. Making a plan for the following day at night can also help you unwind before sleeping: you’ll already know what you need to do the next day, and you can take a break from continuous thinking about it.


Don’t Isolate yourself

An item that should be on every job hunter’s daily routine is social contact. Social contact might be meeting a friend for lunch or even a phone conversation with a supportive family member. Many people instinctively react to hard times by isolation, but this tendency is frequently a factor in feelings of depression and anxiety. Resisting the urge to isolate can help fight off these feelings and may prevent them from developing or becoming overwhelming.  When you are feeling stressed, simply reaching out to those around you or seeking professional support can really help to lessen the load, especially since feelings of anxiety, isolation or low self-worth maybe symptoms of wider mental health problems and the sooner these are addressed, the easier they are to overcome.


Exercise Every Day

Include at least an hour of exercise in your written daily plan. Exercise can boost your mood, help relieve stress, and improve you sleep. An added bonus of exercising is the change of scene: sitting at home in front of a computer or on the phone can give anyone tunnel vision. Movement, fresh air, and activity can help you regain perspective.


Try Strength Training

Consider strength training in addition to daily cardiovascular activity. Strength training does more than merely build muscles: it can improve self-confidence, which is likely to be a benefit when trying to sell yourself in the job market. A gym membership isn’t necessary: push-ups, crunches, dips, squats, pull-ups and calf raises are all great exercises that do not require any equipment. A mini-session is also an excellent antidote for moments of paralysing stress. For moments of extreme anxiety, try spending five or 10 minutes doing super-sets. 


Find Fun Things to keep you busy That Are Free or Inexpensive

Money being tight can have an impact on your typical social and recreational activities, but don’t let that keep you pinned to your sofa.

Search for things to do that cost little or nothing and invite someone you care about to come along. Make plans to take a walk, prepare a meal from scratch, or host a tea or coffee social. Keep an eye out for free things to do. Libraries and community centres often have daytime, weekend, and evening activities for children or adults, and many museums have free admission on regular set dates.


Be There for Others

Being in between jobs doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer—you should still the good friend you were when you had money. If it becomes challenging to believe this and self-doubt or self-pity become overwhelming, think of someone who might like to hear from you and give them a call or send a text. Compassion of yourself and other is a powerful energy generator.  Volunteering is another way of combating isolation, and it has the added bonus of allowing you to give back to the community. Volunteering can also provide valuable networking opportunities.


Maintain a Regular Sleep/Wake Schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help you stay productive and will also regulate your mood and biological clock. Set an alarm Monday through Friday and go to bed early enough to get a full night’s sleep so you are well-rested and ready to do your best in the morning. When you have a whole day to yourself it can seem like you have all the time in the world, but this time tends to fly. Having a plan for each day can help you make the most of your working hours and help prevent blaming yourself at the end of the day. A regulated sleep/wake pattern is likely to reduce the risk of depression or be a part of a treatment strategy. Eating and exercising at the same time each day will be an additional benefit.


Allow yourself Time for Reflection to consolidate and Solidify Learning

Taking time to reflect can increase your chances of learning from your own experiences. As each day draws to a close, look at your list and cross off the things you’ve accomplished. Try writing down or highlighting what you feel proud of accomplishing that day. Give yourself credit for the steps you took, big or small, toward re-employment and toward staying focused and healthy. Consider whether there are any things you might wish to do differently the next day. Did you learn any lessons or discover any changes you should be making? Put your energy into realising these changes, not being hard on yourself for any mistakes, in order to have an even more productive days to follow.

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