Making the Most of Your Time While Unemployed

So you lost your job. Whether you were fired, quit, asked to resign, etc., loss of a job is still a significant, routine-altering change. I mean you already had your lunch spot set up for months, even years. Even if your workplace was toxic, you were sipping the poison slowly and what didn’t kill you…made you incredibly unhappy, but let’s move on. Well, regardless, it is finally over and you might be wondering what to do next. For many, sudden unemployment is a life or death situation in this economy, especially for marginalized people struggling with low incomes, no generational wealth, debt, and job discrimination. Hopefully, you are able to secure unemployment insurance (for as long as it exists). And to be real, until you make sure you have stable housing, finances, and food situation, it’s gonna be very hard to focus on anything else. So I’m moving forward with this post, assuming that your basic survival needs are being met and you are able to focus on other needs.

Loss of a job is like any other kind of loss. You now have to adjust to this change and move forward. I would like to offer some suggestions on how to make the most of your time while unemployed:

Allow yourself some time to get your bearings.

This is especially the case if the way you left your former job was rocky or if the job was overall a toxic place to be. In many ways, it may feel like leaving an abusive relationship and you may have to heal from that. Or if you had to leave a job you enjoyed, you may need space to mourn that loss. Some people have to leave due to an injury or disability and that is another kind of loss and huge change to deal with. Many people are also living with depression, anxiety and/or many other mental health concerns and the stresses of unemployment can heighten these symptoms. I would suggest at least week or 2 of just letting yourself be. No pressure to accomplish anything (beyond applying for unemployment or whatever other social service benefits you might need while unemployed). Take this time and do some emergency healing. What helps you escape significant stress? How do you cope? Do you like to hide away? Cool, stay home, hibernate, text your friends, and watch movies until you feel more like yourself. Do you need a change in scenery? Maybe sleep over at a friend’s place for a week, like you’re on a vacation. Whatever you choose to do for at least a week or 2, do it for you with no shame. Giving yourself time to rest and recover from your last job is not only good for your mental health, but it will also strengthen you for the job hunt ahead.

Process what happened.

Whether you were fired or quit, having to leave a job unplanned sucks at best. Whether you feel relieved, overjoyed, angry, sad, resentful, exhausted, etc., there is nothing wrong with wanting to talk about it. Find consenting people to vent to about this or write about it in a journal, on your blog, etc. You’ll feel a lot better once you get some time to talk through what happened. And depending on how things at your job ended, you might need to talk about it a lot while you are adjusting to this change. That’s ok.

Structure Your Days

Part of what makes being unemployed difficult is the psychological piece. In this capitalistic society, work gives people a sense of purpose and on a basic level, work literally sets the schedule for people’s lives. It can be comforting and comfortable for many people to wake up at the same time everyday and know exactly what you have to do. Once you lose your job, that piece of comfort and certainty disappears. Now, you (and your body) have to figure out when to sleep, when to eat, and how to spend all the hours in the day. In the first few weeks, it is very easy to fall into an unemployment blackhole, especially if the situation at the last job did not end on good terms. Many of us have found ourselves laying on the bed/couch, feeling without direction. Fill up your day with stuff that feels fulfilling & healing. Set an alarm, apply for jobs, pick up hobbies, clear up your Netflix queue, maybe make a checklist, but be careful that it doesn’t become an obligation.

Go Outside

This can be really hard for more introverted people or people dealing with depression symptoms for example. However, finding a reason to get out at least 1-2x a week is medicine for the mind and body. Even if it’s taking an extra long walk back from the corner store or doing laundry. Some other suggestions: go to the gym, visit friends, go to the library, check out any free/low cost activities in your area, etc.

Ok…Now, What’s Next?

Think about where do you wanna go from here. Did you learn anything from your last job experience? What do you want to leave behind or take with you for the next job?

This is a great time to reflect on the choices you’ve made up to this point. Is there anything you’d do differently? Do you need to refocus/regroup?

With self-reflection, comes growth, y’all.

Maintenance

Once you give yourself time to heal, took some time to process your emotions until you feel lighter, got your schedule down, and find time to go outside at least 1-2x a week, now you’re ready for the hardest part of unemployment: maintenance. It could take months for you to find a new job in this economy. There could be days when you feel more hopeful than others. There could be days where you feel hopeless or lose confidence in your skills. Or days where you feel so frustrated and angry that you feel like doing something reckless. It could help to plan for those days. In therapy, this is called a safety plan. You hope for the best, but it’s always good to have your backup plan in place for when something pops off.

Some questions to ask yourself when planning for the worst:

  • What are some signs that let you know you’re starting to feel hopeless, sad, frustrated, etc? Do you feel it in your body? Do you get headaches? Do your hands shake? Or is it more in your head/thoughts? Do you get racing thoughts, for example? It’s good to be aware of yourself.
  • What are some things you can do to cope with these feelings/this situation? What are some barriers to (aka what stops you from) you using these coping skills and how could you overcome those barriers?
  • Who can you contact for support?
  • What kind of support do you want from them?
  • Do you feel comfortable calling emergency services? What hospital would you want to go to in a worst case scenario? Do you have any suicide hotlines handy?

Unemployment does not have to be a hellscape. Just like after any other loss, there’s room for healing and change. Following these suggestions can help you proactively make the most of your free time, focusing on healing and personal growth. Changing this usually unpleasant experience into a period of transformation also allows you to reflect on any lessons learned and re-examine your wants/expectations while you’re in the process of figuring out your next move.

Be kind to yourself. Invest in yourself. You might be surprised by all the things you are capable of.

Thanks for reading. Next post: “How to Know If/When You’re Depressed” on 1/28/18.

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