By Wendy Wisner
Losing a job — or even leaving one voluntarily — can take a huge toll on your mental health. First and foremost is the stress and worry about how you will stay afloat financially. Your daily routine also gets thrown off, and your self-esteem and identity might take a hit as well. And if you have family or a spouse to support, it can be easy to fall into the trap of guilt and shame over the inability to provide income in the short-term.
Unemployment means living with an uncertain future, and this alone can trigger depression and anxiety in many of us. But you should know that almost all of us have been there at one time or another, and you are not alone. Most importantly, there are actionable things you can do to protect your mental health.
Remember: If your mental health is at risk, you will not be able to pursue employment opportunities with vigor and confidence. It’s vital that you do what you can to nurture your emotional well-being at this time.
“Feelings of uncertainty are a difficult part of being unemployed, but the key is to control what you can control and let go of the rest,” says Amanda Rausch, a LMFT in Washington state. Rausch recommends that you be proactive in whatever way that you can, but also keep in mind that however difficult this period in your life is, it’s temporary.
“The law of impermanence is currently working in your favor and the only certainty you can truly rely on is uncertainty,” Rausch says.
One of the things to be mindful of is how unemployment might be causing self-esteem issues for you, especially since people often define themselves by their jobs. Rausch suggests trying to find ways to redefine your identity, and to look for ways to keep your outlook positive and empowering.
“Define yourself by traits, not titles,” Rausch advises. “For example, a businessman is not defined by the title he receives at work, but the traits that got him that title are what build his self esteem (organized, responsible, honest, driven). Titles are fleeting, but traits cannot be taken away from you.”
Additionally, says Rausch, try not to let unemployment itself define who you are. “How you make the most of your time between jobs is within your control,” she assures.
Rausch has some other fantastic tips for maintaining your mental health while unemployed.
Make actionable lists of what you can do each day to secure future work, like tuning up your resume, contacting recruiters, browsing job postings, and pinging friends and former colleagues who might be able to help.
“Dedicate a set amount of time to [the employment search] each day,” says Rausch. But, once that dedicated time is over, let it go for a bit. “Redirect your mind and focus until the next designated time,” she says.
Make lists of things that you didn’t have to time to do when you were working, and dedicate some time to those too. This way, you can make the most of your new-found free time, Rausch suggests.
You shouldn’t feel guilty about taking care of important personal business, starting a new hobby, or spending time with friends you haven’t seen for a while. Your life is yours, and you can use this time to fulfill the emotional and practical needs that may have been neglected while you were employed.
Self-care is more important now than ever, explains Rausch. But practicing self-care doesn’t have to cost extra money that you may be wary of spending right now.
“Taking bubble baths, organizing your home, taking walks, and remembering to breathe all help maintain mental health,” says Rausch.
Most importantly, get support. Begin — or keep going — to therapy, if at all possible. And don’t forget the helpers who are already in your life, many of whom would love to support you if you’d reach out and tell them what’s going on.
“Do not isolate,” Rausch says. “Reach out to those who support you. Know you are not alone.”
It’s easy to feel that you are the only one facing the stressors that periods of unemployment present. But you definitely are not alone. You may feel that there is very little that you can control right now, but the fact is there is a lot you can do — both to secure a new job, and protect your mental health in the process.
Everything will work out as it should in the end, so have a little faith, take an extra bubble bath (or three: who’s counting?), and hang in there. The best is yet to come.
Originally published at www.talkspace.com