Archive for the ‘Stress’ Category

BookCover_v1Unemployment has more than just an economic impact on our lives. M. Harvey Brenner (1973, 1999) in Mental Illness and the Economy estimates that every 1% gain in unemployment over 3 years is accompanied by 20,240 cardio failures, 495 alcohol deaths, 920 suicides, 628 homicides and 4,227 admissions to psychiatric hospitals. Yet, little attention is paid to the psychological impact of unemployment.

In my new Kindle book, How to Stay Up in a Down Job Market: Survival Skills for the Unemployed, I address 9 strategies you can begin implementing immediately to start fighting the emotional storm that often accompanies unemployment. This concise book is not meant to be a panacea; I can’t give you a 30-day money back guarantee. However, I can assure you that there are psychological strategies you can learn to employ that will prove helpful. Because unemployment is such a threat to our well being, it is critical that you reduce the psychological impact of job loss. While it is hoped this book will be helpful, it cannot replace the help a physician or mental health professional can provide when needed.

The research clearly indicates that unemployment creates a level of prolonged stress which can be debilitating in terms of one’s physical and mental wellbeing. There are a number of simple strategies presented in the book that focus on reducing the stress you are experiencing.

Central to my approach is that if we want to change how we feel there are two buttons we can push. We can change our thinking and/or change our actions. When an event occurs, we immediately begin to evaluate it. Our evaluations might be rational and helpful. Unfortunately, sometimes they are irrational and lead to emotional upset and self-defeating behavior. This can especially occur when confronted with adversity. The book addresses how you can challenge irrational thoughts and the necessity to replace them with positive thinking. A simple example would go something like this: “I lost my job, I’ll never find another in this economy.” A more helpful and rational thought would be: “It will be tough to find another job and might take awhile. I better work on it everyday.”

If we want to change how we feel, we also need to focus on our actions. Of course, we need to engage in job search activities, but the book emphasizes the need to also engage in activities that improve our mood and motivation. In my opinion, it is critical to include activities such as reading, gardening, walking, exercise, or anything else you enjoy.

We can use such activities to reinforce the completion of less inherently interesting chores like searching job boards each day. It has been my experience with clients who find themselves really stuck, that focusing on activities proves more useful at first than attacking irrational thinking. For one of my unemployed clients, taking the time some mornings to drive her children to school gave her a sense of satisfaction and helped start her day. When she was working, she never had been able to drop them off or pick them up. Another client, an unemployed father for the first time could help his children with homework. It helped him feel he was contributing to the family’s welfare even though he was out of work.

While we know that finding a new position takes hard work, we often ignore our physical and mental health. Just reading this book will not change how you feel. If you want to limit the potential damage of unemployment to you and your family’s well being, you will have to work just as hard everyday to sustain your physical and emotional health. The book is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.


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Ignoring the stress you may be experiencing is not in your best interest and won’t necessarily get you another job faster. In his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert M. Sapolsky cites research, which clearly indicates that stress has a significantly negative impact on physical and mental well-being.  Its effects on our cardiovascular system, immune system, memory, and mental health are now well documented.

Our nervous system is built to prepare us for danger.   When confronted with a life threatening event, our nervous system triggers the fight or flight response.  Hormones are released and chemical messages are sent to every part of our body.  As a result, we experience short bursts of energy that can save our lives.  Obviously, the stress response supports our survival as a species, but it turns out to be a double-edged sword.  Unfortunately, we are capable of initiating the stress response not only to physical danger, but also when confronted with psychological fears and worries. The stress response, if engaged for prolonged periods, can be devastating.  A survey study entitled The Anguish of Unemployment (2009) conducted by The John J. Heldrich Center for Work and Development at Rutgers University emphasized the impact of unemployment on our mental health.  Long-term unemployment, as we face today, is linked to depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and domestic violence.  Considering the threat prolonged periods of stress present to our well being, it is truly critical that we engage in activities that have been shown to reduce the effects of stress on our bodies and minds.

You can easily find articles and books on coping with stress.  Two strategies that I recommend are exercise and diaphragmatic breathing. Your physician can give you advice on the type and duration of an exercise program that’s right for you. For diaphragmatic breathing most authorities suggest twenty to thirty minutes a session three or more times a week. Personally, I rely on diaphragmatic breathing five to ten minutes a day.  Search the Internet and you’ll find several descriptions and demonstrations. The idea is to inhale slowly, expanding your diaphragm (the area just below your rib cage). Then exhale slowly.  I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth.  I begin by clearing my mind and concentrate solely on the sensation produced by the flow of air.  The experience not only reduces mental stress, it leaves my body feeling physically relaxed.

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Too many people take personal responsibility for losing their job, even if entire divisions were closed or the firm moved overseas.   Sure it’s a blow to the ego, but employees are not to blame if the company goes out of business, sells out, or down sizes.  Yet so many people take it personally, and some take it to extremes.  “I’m the one who lost the job.  Why should my family suffer?”

One gentleman who participated in my workshops said, “My family went to the beach Saturday.  It was hot and my wife and daughter wanted ice cream.  I was happy to get it for them, but I felt awful getting it for myself.  I should be home looking for work.”

My response to him was, you can’t be looking for work 24 X 7.  If you’re doing everything within reason to get re-employed, that’s plenty.  As human beings we need to recharge our batteries, and we need to do it often.  Taking time to enjoy yourself is important to reduce stress.  Having fun provides mental refreshment and can make it easier to do the less pleasurable tasks of looking for a job.

I recommend that clients plan for pleasurable activities every day.  What you do doesn’t have to be a big deal.  Call a friend, take a short walk, play a couple games of solitaire, anything enjoyable that creates a mental diversion.  Personally, I use fun activities as a reward for completing tasks.  For example, I really enjoy reading mysteries.  On days when I have to spend time with household chores and office bookkeeping, I promise myself that I’ll pick up a book once those tasks have been completed.

Concentrate on things you can do for free, but don’t beat yourself up for spending a couple bucks on something enjoyable.  Your family recognizes the stress you’re under, and I’ll bet they enjoy seeing you relax and having fun.

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If you think the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day  is not a good time to follow up on job leads, think again.  Yes, everyone is preoccupied with year-end details.  There are lots of office parties and other distractions. Many take the week as vacation.  There are a lot of apparently “good” reasons why not to look.

However, the fact remains, if a job is posted it is still available.  There could be an extreme urgency to get that position filled.  The company might want someone to start right after the first of the year, and they still haven’t found the best candidate.

Since many job seekers believe this is a bad time to look, the competitive pool is now smaller, and that can increase your chances of standing out.  If you’ve already had an interview, following up this week demonstrates your continued interest and perseverance.  Who knows, that might be all it takes to tip the balance in your favor.

In previous posts we’ve talked about how negative thinking, or believing something that isn’t true, can get in your way.  The key is to challenge the validity of those thoughts.  Ask your self if there are alternative possibilities.  Look for a positive thought and take action.  For example, “Companies are too busy to hire this time of year” should be replaced by “I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by following up right now.”

As I finished writing this post, I came across an article in The Wall Street Journal,  http://on.wsj.com/vJ6XJA, confirming the wisdom to press on during the holiday season.  I think you’ll find it interesting.

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We hear from many unemployed people that holidays are exceptionally stressful, especially those associated with gift giving.  There are many reasons why this is understandable.  It is hard to be joyful when one hasn’t gotten over having lost one’s job. Secondly, it’s hard to feel generous when regular income has been greatly reduced, if not eliminated.  Realistically, a new position may not appear before the New Year.  Focusing solely on your lack of resources will only amplify your level of stress.  Frankly, family and friends understand your situation and would prefer that you not dig yourself into a deeper hole. Those close to you will most likely feel good knowing that you are not fretting away this holiday season.
Experience is sometimes the best teacher. Many of you may recall from older relatives who lived through The Great Depression, holidays were no less joyous when a typical gift might have been an orange or a bag of candy.  Maybe this is a year when you re-think gift giving and come up ideas that don’t put a crimp in your wallet.
Here are some examples:
  Make some CDs of your favorite music that others might enjoy.
  Has someone admired one of your possessions you no longer need?  Imagine how appreciative the recipient would be if you gave them something you personally valued.
 Create a photo album or journal of memorable moments shared with a loved one.
 There are tons of things that can come out of your kitchen like baked goods, preserves, pickled veggies, or your favorite sauces.
 Are you good at crafts?  Can you think of something easy to make in time for the holidays?  Even if it’s small, the person who receives will appreciate the creativity, time and caring you put into it.
  How about creating gift certificates good for car washes, household chores, or baby-sitting?
We’d like to hear your suggestions.  Not only for economical gifts,but also for ways you can avoid the holiday blues.

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With so few jobs available, it’s not surprising when clients tell me they’re losing their confidence. If you’re one of those people, it’s important to examine yourself closely.  Reflect on what you are telling yourself.  Too often ourself-talk is negative.  We walk around putting ourselves down with statements like “I guess I don’t have what it takes to get a job anymore,” or “If I had only started looking before the layoff I’d have been okay.” Frankly, self-talk that includes “would have, could have, should have “statements lead nowhere.  What you need to do is rewrite those negative scripts.
Begin by recalling just how effective you were at your previous jobs.  Take stock of your talents.  Think of your successes.  Remember all the good things that were said in your reviews.. How about all the positive feedback from supervisors and co-workers?  What about all the problems you solved? All of those things are still true!
I also realize the reality that it may take months to get another job, and as time passes, your self-confidence begins to wane.  One way to reinvigorate your confidence is to demonstrate competence in your daily actions. Look around your house or apartment and pick a job like waxing your car, weeding a garden, fixing a leaky faucet, or painting some trim.  When you’re finished, step back and enjoy a sense of satisfaction with a job well done.  Try to remember that action is a good way to jump-start motivation. Build you self-confidence one small step at a time by rediscovering your sense of mastery.
Time and again in this blog I have emphasized the role thinking plays in your emotions and actions. If you see your present state of unemployment as your personal failure, you need a reality check.  Unfortunately, you are caught up in the worst recession since the great depression.  You ended up without a job because of forces far beyond your control.  rewrite the script you keep playing in your mind with a more realistic assessment such as, “These are tough times which I will survive because I am a competent person with skills and talents that have served me and previous employers well.”  Keep that thought in mind as you stick to your search for a new job and it will help in keeping you emotionally and physically healthy. 

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If you are unemployed, my heart goes out to you. Listen-up. Here is some tough love and savvy advice from someone who has selected and interviewed hundreds of people. Let me put this as plainly as possible. Move away from your computer and towards your local coffee shop, little league park or ordinary social event. Go anywhere people gather. Meet new people, tell everyone you know that you need a job or a project. The “friend of a friend” is very likely going to be your next boss. 

In the meantime, go to your favorite charity and volunteer to do a specific and meaningful project. Work while you are looking for work: Serve coffee, mow lawns, run errands. There is nothing more honorable that earning a living, no matter how humble the job. 

Another tip…please stop the madness. Stop pressing the “apply” button expecting to get a reply or phone call. Do the math. At Coca-Cola, I received hundreds of resumes a day. They were dumped into a data base of millions. I know the same to be true of most, if not all, major corporations. You are more likely to win the lottery than get an interview by merely pressing the apply button. Stats indicate that only somewhere between 5-15 % of people get jobs that way. Use the job boards to find out what jobs are open. Then ask everyone you know if they know someone at the companies where you see posted openings. Get an introduction. Ask your “friend’s friend” if he or she will do you a favor and meet you for coffee. After you meet, ask him or her to hand deliver or email your resume to the hiring manager with a personal note attached. Then pay the favor forward.

Lisa Jacobson, career advisor and HR consultant, is the founder of Workplace Solutions, http://www.workplacesolutionstampa.com. 

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