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Archive for the ‘Isolation’ Category

Social isolation is a major threat to people who have been unemployed for a prolonged period.  One obvious cause is the loss of daily contact with co-workers and other professional colleagues.  Another cause arises from people withdrawing from friends and family because of embarrassment and/or the need to cut back on the expenses associated with socializing.  Certainly, there are other possible factors.

The devastating impact of social isolation was highlighted in a recent “60 Minutes” telecast entitled “Platform to Employment” which described a successful program to help long term unemployed gain re-employment.  Interviews of the participants brought home the debilitating psychological pain, which often accompanies unemployment.  Repeatedly, those interviewed referred to the loss of self-confidence and self esteem as well as feelings of shame and embarrassment.  Over time they began to view themselves as failures.  One participant shared her biggest worry; namely, for the first time in her life she feared she would not be able to take care of herself.  It is feelings such as that which cause the unemployed to slowly withdraw into themselves and become more and more socially isolated.

Our bodies are programmed to respond to danger – or threats to our security — by releasing the hormones which lead to the Fight or Flight Response.  We are built to endure short periods of stress.  Prolonged stress or worry has been shown to lead to physical and mental illness.  In his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert M. Sapolsky refers to research, which indicates that social isolation for prolonged periods can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones.

In today’s economy, the unemployed can be subjected to prolonged periods of worry and stress.  The resulting self-doubt and loss of confidence leads to their social withdrawal and inevitably increases their stress levels.  It therefore is critical that the unemployed seek social support, which Sapolsky recommends as an antidote to stress.

A few years ago, I presented a workshop for at a local community college.  The workshop focused on psychological strategies that could be effective in combating the emotional storm of unemployment.  It quickly became clear that an unintended benefit of the program was providing participants with social connections.  In fact, on the last night of the workshop, the group decided to approach college administrators to request a room so that they could continue meeting on a regular basis.

A couple of months later, I presented the same workshop to a similar group, which had been meeting at a church.  It struck me that this group was coping better with the stress of unemployment because of the support they provided each other.  One example of their efforts was a clothing drive for members to replace worn out items as well as obtain acceptable clothing for interviews.  They also canvassed local merchants who were willing to provide unemployed members with discounted services and products.

My experience with these two groups convinced me to encourage unemployed people to find or start support groups.  To find an existing support group, consult the community activities section of your local newspaper, or look into nearby faith organizations.  I have found these support groups to be open to anyone who is interested, regardless of religious affiliation.

If you want to start a group, a faith organization, community college, or volunteer fire department is a good place to start looking for free space.  Topics can range from helping one another with resumes, to providing job leads, to discussing strategies for salary negotiation, how to explain gaps in your resume, or how to handle tough interview questions.  Material need not be prepared in advance.  My bet is that you will be amazed at how many really good suggestions can be inspired by people of like minds.

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Over the years I have deepened my understanding of the human experience and improved my skills as a therapist by listening closely to clients.  Recently, while conducting a workshop on coping with the emotional turmoil of unemployment, a participant offered a great suggestion to the group.  When her children were young, she sometimes felt housebound.  She started volunteering to get out of the house and connect with people, as well as make a social contribution.

Once she returned to work she was too busy to continue volunteering.  Unfortunately, because of the downturn in the economy she found herself unemployed and spending hours everyday looking for another position.   After a few months, she started to feel socially isolated.  Remembering the sense of community she got from volunteering years earlier, she decided to try her hand at it once again.

It worked.  She looked forward to working with other people and helping the less fortunate.  Her motivation improved as well as her sense of self worth.  As a result, she encouraged other members of the group to volunteer.  When we met as a group a week later, she had inspired four other people to take on volunteer positions.  One person reported that she was learning new computer skills.  Someone in another workshop was hoping the skills she was gaining volunteering at an animal shelter would lead to a job at a privately owned dog kennel.

Our society is richer and more humane because of millions of volunteers across the country.  For those seeking jobs, it not only enriches their lives but also adds to their resume.  It shows perspective employers that you have a cooperative, sociable nature and are willing to give generously of yourself to support a greater cause.  It helps answer the question “What have you been doing while unemployed?” Interestingly, a recent blog post on Ivyexec.com reported that 20% of hiring managers relied on volunteering as part of their hiring decisions.

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Job loss is seen by many as one of the most traumatic events one can experience.  Like other impactful events, the negative effects can be overcome by employing different strategies.  In previous blog posts we’ve talked about reframing negative thoughts into positive ideas, counting your blessings, exercising, making time to enjoy life, and other suggestions.
A while back, researchers at the Southern Methodist University[1] discovered that writing your deepest thoughts and emotions about losing your job could be very helpful.  Some of the benefits include a lowering of stress as indicated by reduced blood pressure, weight and heart rate.  Medical science has known for a long time that sustained levels of stress can have serious health consequences.  Expressing thoughts privately, that you might not feel comfortable discussing with others, can also help you “unload” the mental burden and keep you from ruminating about the situation.
Participants in the study wrote about a range of topics which included the emotions associated with problems of finding a new job, issues with family and loved ones, financial matters, how they felt the day they were let go, how they felt about their old employer and co-workers, and health concerns.  These are good topics, but you’re free to make your own choice.
Give it a try.  People in the study wrote 20 minutes a day for five days.  (Researchers didn’t look at writing for different lengths of time.)  We suggest that writing your thoughts and emotions whenever you get bogged down will be helpful.  Of course, if you can talk to a loved one or friend bout your feelings, that’s better still.
[1] “Expressive Writing and Management”; Academy of Management Journal, 1994, Vol. 37, No.3, 722-733.

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True, you shouldn’t worry about stress; you should do something about it. Medical science has shown that physical and emotional health cannot be separated.  Being stressed over a long period of time has been linked to problems like depression, heart disease, diabetes, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, and many others. Stress can even make existing medical conditions worse. And no one has to tell you that being unemployed is highly stressful.

We strongly suggest you work on controlling stress every day. There are a number of proven techniques to lower stress quickly and effectively. They include, but are limited to: exercise, yoga, relaxation tapes, seeking social support, and even the simple act of laughing. (If you can’t reduce stress on your own, it is important to seek professional help.) Did you notice we mentioned laughter? While on the computer go to you favorite search engine and type in “laughter yoga.” You will discover why science has shown that laughter is great medicine. Why not try it today? Watch a funny movie and let us know how you feel afterward.

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You’re not alone. Current studies of people who are out of work show that a sense of isolation is very common. People report less contact with friends and former coworkers. Work plays such a large role in our lives, not only financially but also socially, that job loss presents a real threat to our emotional wellbeing. As a result, the unemployed become more withdrawn over time. In reality, we are responsible for creating that sense of isolation by not reaching out. It is important to recognize this threat and work on maintaining social connections. Friends are a wonderful source of emotional support.

Another way to guard against social isolation is to join a support group for people who are unemployed. Local faith communities and civic organizations are a frequent source. These groups often invite guess speakers who offer helpful information on a variety of topics. Members help each other by sharing personal experiences. If a group does not exist in your community, try starting one. Lots of organizations will gladly offer space for you to meet. We think you’d be surprised how well such an effort is received. Let us know if you belong to such a group and how it formed.

Today, the Internet provides lots of ways to stay connected though social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Social networking makes it easy to stay in touch. It also provides the ability to share job leads and other important information.

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