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Unemployment Blues: Mind Over Mood

Our lives are tranquil and smooth so seldom, it seems. We have our ups-and-downs, our good days and bad days, our sunny moods and black moods. The less we swing in opposite directions, the happier we tend to be. The biology of our bodies craves balance and consistency -- changes in our thought patterns and emotions interrupt the regularity of our nerve pathways leading to chemical inbalance and internal disturbances.

Stress kills because stress is the critical determinant of how we think, how we feel, how we react: all activities which terribly upset that silent body chemistry. Events cause stress: the death or illness of a loved one, fear of terrorism, divorce, exposure to violence or a personal attack, financial setbacks, loss of a job.

We cannot remove the event: it happened. We cannot control the stress: our bodies have already reacted. We can only control our mind and use its enormous power to move ourselves back closer to normalcy and serenity.

Unemployment plays havoc with our emotional system. We rapidly cycle through anger at what has happened, grief at what we have lost, fear of what lies ahead, and recurrent shockwaves of shame, anxiety, and despair. We take a number of hits all at once: loss of occupational identity, economic pressure, family anxiety, and the humiliation of job search. How can one little mind fight all of that at once?

One step at a time.

1. Assess.

Assess your situation objectively so you can set your priorities in order. If you are eligible, register for unemployment immediately while identifying everything in your life you can live without for the immediate future: entertainment, treats, brand foods, non-generic household staples, driving for pleasure, gourmet cooking, and eating out. Check your credit cards and major loans (house, car) and see if there are arrangements you can make to just pay the interest until you're back to work. Early contacts and planning may reduce your immediate financial burdens which will, in return, reduce your level of anxiety and fear.

Resolve not to ruminate about the unfairness of your layoff and identify some activities which will allow you to keep that negative brooding at bay when it quietly sneaks up on you.

2. Ask.

Asking for support starts with bringing your family on board so they know how you're feeling and how they can help. Even a totally self-absorbed teenager may be willing to pull their part when the family's survival is at stake. Explain how you are going to organize your job search and how you will need to count on them when you're feeling rejected and worthless. Identify a time when you will all meet together, once a week, so you can fill them in on what has been happening and get ideas from them which might make your next efforts more successful.

This will help you move beyond the grief of your job loss and the increased solidity and support will allay your sense of worthlessness and failure.

3. Appreciate.

Use your job search activity to bolster your self-esteem. Your confidence is already in jeopardy and your sense of self-value under constant attack. As you take the physical steps to find new work, take the time to nurture your emotional needs. Read your resume not just as a document outlining your experience but as a conduit to your character. Think back to your prior work and education. Give yourself a mental boost for the successes you have enjoyed, no matter how small. Pat yourself on the back for the efforts you expended and your value as an employee. If there were failures, as is usual for most of us, remind yourself of what you learned and how you became a bigger, better person for the experience. Reread any awards, special recognitions, or recommendations you ever received and internalize such paper symbols as evidence of your value, your worth, your ability to contribute to the world.

When you take to the street and visit employers, agencies, or obtain interviews, don't just focus on the outcome. It is so easy to interview, not receive an offer, and bear down on yourself as a no-good failure. The right offer will eventually come if you persist. What is important now is to appreciate what you have actually done. Give yourself credit for the actions you personally took to get that interview: resume submission, telephone calls, agency referral --whatever steps were needed. The job might not have been a good fit, that's why it wasn't offered, but you did all the right things to get the opportunity that a personal interview affords. Revel in the fact that you are taking the right steps in the right direction and that just a little more time and similar effort will lead to success.

Use your mind as a source of constant self-support and self-appreciation and it will counteract the stress you're now feeling. Use it frequently, and use it positively, as the one source of help and affection that will never desert you.

Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. Author of an interactive and supportive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge, she can be reached at

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