Unemployment Blues: Maintaining Emotional Balance

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When we are under stress, we start to experience wide swings in mood. In a new relationship, for example, we are ecstatic when the telephone rings, depressed and tearful when we don't hear anything for two or three days. When we are ill, we are elated when tests come back negative, fearful and exhausted when a problem is identified. Working under a demanding tyrant, we are upbeat with any hint of praise and despondent when the inevitable criticism splashes in our faces.

The pervasiveness of being out of work touches so many parts of our lives: our finances, our family, our egos, and our inner sense of self. Because the anxiety of unemployment reaches to the core of our comfortable lifestyles, we suffer from a changing array of intense emotional ups and downs.

Some kind of emotional balance is necessary if we are to stay healthy, maintain our relationships, and be able to effectively function in job search. Reaching such a balance is difficult and made more so by our own inner turmoil. How do we re-establish that balance that will make us feel like our old selves, whole, optimistic, and complete?

Here are a couple of strategies to try.

1. Regain a broader perspective.

When we are confronted by a host of problems, we tend to put on blinders and only see the obstacles that are staring us in the face. We lose touch with what else is happening in the greater world we inhabit. Our conversation narrows to the one subject that dogs us night and day - the need to find work. Friends become bored with our egocentric outlook and relationships suffer from our obsession with our present misfortune. We may become prickly because of the fear and anger we are experiencing. We may still harbor anger at being laid off and our bitterness seeps into the affectionate ties we have with others.

Despite the discomfort and dangers of your present situation, remember that a whole universe exists out there that is totally ignorant and indifferent to your fate. Try to live in both worlds. During the time you have scheduled for job search, make that your total focus. For the rest of the day, enlarge your view to see what else is happening around you.

Read the newspaper, watch the news, keep up with a changing world. Spend time finding out what is happening in your children's lives and how the workday went for your spouse. Take a walk and visit with neighbors to talk about local events and community politics. Not only will you be more welcome when you are no longer totally consumed by your jobless state, but you will feel more like your old self, a cog in the real world rather than an isolated alien.

2. Develop your empathy.

We all need to learn, as the old adage says, to "walk a mile in another's moccasins." You are so anxious and fearful about the future that it is easy to dismiss the worries of others that seem petty in comparison. Remember that to someone who has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease, your layoff may seem trivial. The significance of our problems is always relative. Because they are so close to us, and dominate our minds, we tend to feel that OUR problems are the biggest and that no one really understands the challenges we face.

To turn our backs on our own concerns, at least occasionally, and to reach out to understand and help others with their own difficulties, gives us some distance from the ballooning fears that threaten to overwhelm us. Distance confers objectivity and detachment, qualities we desperately need if we are to develop creative solutions.

Bury yourself for a while in the problems of others and you start to see that nothing is quite as awful as those who are involved believe it is. You'll find that, as a dispassionate outsider, you can readily see the options and alternatives available.

Your teenaged daughter's devastation over her boyfriend's rejection may seem like a gross over-reaction. Try to look at it from her point of view and you'll notice the similarity to your own situation - the pain and discomfort of a personal world turned upside down.

Explore the frustration and anger of your brother-in-law's stymied career and you'll experience the same emotional dejection at his lack of success as you feel after an interview that didn't look promising.

Our problem-solving abilities thrive with practice and helping others is a marvelous way to develop your own skills while giving them your much needed support. Start to personally identify with the victims of natural disasters who not only have no job, but are also without a roof over their head and desperately missing loved ones who were lost.

Every time we move a little out of our circumscribed personal worlds, our vision expands and our problems shrink in comparison, allowing us to rise above them and deal with them forcefully as we never can when they loom large and insurmountable.