2 Practices That Can Pull You Out Of The 'Unemployment Blues'

Feeling stagnant during unemployment? Here's how you can remotivate yourself.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | May 08, 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of the job market, unemployment is an unfortunate reality that many individuals have to face at some point in their lives. Beyond the financial strain, unemployment can significantly impact a person's mental well-being and overall life satisfaction.

Here are some ways unemployment may be impacting you.

  • Loss of identity. Work often provides us with a sense of identity and self-worth. Being unemployed can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and a loss of identity.
  • Financial stress. Unemployment often brings financial instability. The uncertainty of the next paycheck can exacerbate feelings of stress.
  • Social isolation. Losing a job can lead to a significant reduction in social contact. Another common experience is feeling "left behind" compared to your peers, as it can feel like they are ahead of you at this time. This can create feelings of loneliness and alienation.
  • A sense of powerlessness. Unemployment can make individuals feel like they have lost control over their lives. You may feel powerless to change your circumstances, especially if you are facing barriers to finding new employment, such as a lack of available jobs or skill mismatches.
  • Loss of purpose. Work often provides structure and routine to daily life. Without a job, you may struggle to establish new routines, leading to feelings of aimlessness.

However, amidst the challenges of unemployment, there are strategies that individuals can employ to emerge stronger from this period. A 2024 study examined the effects of unemployment on well-being and found two factors that can buffer against these effects.

1. Create Positive Re-Employment Expectations

Re-employment expectations encompass beliefs and aspirations about the type of job you anticipate securing, the timeline for finding new employment, the level of compensation you expect to receive or the overall success of your job search efforts. Researchers found that positive re-employment expectations were associated with increases in well-being when unemployed.

"Being unemployed with good re-employment expectations was related to feeling happier and more awake in contrast to being employed. Unemployed individuals seem to be better able to enjoy their leisure time when they expect to start a new job soon," the researchers explain.

Conversely, poor re-employment expectations were linked to the detrimental effects of unemployment on life satisfaction. This highlights the significance of your outlook on job prospects. By cultivating realistic and positive re-employment expectations, you can maintain a sense of hope and personal agency amidst the challenges of job loss.

To adopt more helpful re-employment expectations, avoid creating a strict timeline for when you "should" have a job again. Instead, practice inviting uncomfortable emotions about unemployment and challenge any self-critical thoughts that arise by reminding yourself, for instance, that the right opportunity hasn't come along yet and that this is a transitional period, not a permanent state.

You may struggle with thinking you aren't good enough, accomplished enough or smart enough to have the job you want. It's essential not to internalize your circumstances or think something is wrong with you for being unemployed.

While it is important to learn from your experiences and take accountability for any mistakes, personalizing job loss or blaming yourself for your current position is only detrimental to your journey ahead.

Embracing uncertainty as an opportunity to create a positive career trajectory can help regulate overwhelming emotions in this process. Working with a mental health professional to learn emotional regulation techniques can also help you feel more grounded and reframe unhelpful thoughts into positive self-perceptions, which can energize you and fuel job search efforts.

Being self-compassionate about job loss involves recognizing that this is a common human experience. You should offer yourself the same kindness and non-judgmental support you would to a friend in a similar situation. This enhances resilience and helps alleviate the psychological distress associated with unemployment.

2. Remember Your Power

Researchers of the 2024 study found that experiencing "environmental mastery" can buffer against the negative impact of unemployment. A key dimension of psychological well-being, this refers to the ability to effectively manage and adapt to changing circumstances and challenges in one's environment.

It is important to start believing in your ability to influence and shape your environment through your actions and decisions, rather than feeling powerless or at the mercy of external forces.

"Pre-unemployment levels of environmental mastery were positively associated with more positive unemployment-related changes in feeling happy, awake and calm," the researchers write.

Environmental mastery also involves setting and pursuing meaningful goals that align with your values, interests and aspirations. When applying to new jobs, it's essential to slow down and exercise agency over your future career trajectory by choosing jobs that truly align with you.

Cultivating a sense of environmental mastery also involves remembering your own strengths and skills, as well as staying committed to personal growth. For instance, keeping yourself up to date on the latest developments in your field can boost your confidence.

Remember that the companies you are pursuing would also benefit from hiring you and it just takes some time for both sides to find the right fit. Lastly, remember that you are so much more than your job. Use this time to invest in other areas of your life, including your relationships, interests and your health and well-being.

Focus on building a sense of purpose and meaning outside of work so that being employed does not dictate your sense of self-worth. Meaningful activities, such as volunteering, pursuing hobbies or learning new skills are a great way to start.

While unemployment can be distressing, it is not insurmountable. Your perception of unemployment is a crucial determinant of how well you navigate this challenging period. By cultivating realistic re-employment expectations and building self-confidence, you can enhance your resilience, optimism and well-being in the face of uncertainty.

Is unemployment making you question your abilities? Take this test to find out: Impostor Syndrome Scale

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