5 Ways To Stay Sane While Unemployed

At one point my husband was financially supporting all 3 of his unemployed roommates: me, Punky (cat left), and Cheeto (cat right).

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There’s nothing like being in your pajamas at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon that can make you feel liberated and pathetic all at once. In 2010 I was unemployed and job hunting for several months, and at my lowest point I was  feeling like a worthless turd.

When you’re unemployed, everyone and their mother will share tips about how to find work. (Trust me, people will give you advice whether you like it or not!) So I don’t need to tell you how to tweak your resume or how to score an interview. Instead, I want to address how to handle all of the messy emotional stuff that comes along with unemployment — the stuff that those resume writing how-to books don’t talk about.

Don’t be surprised if you experience some symptoms of depression and anxiety. Heck, I did. But there are ways to contain your discomfort during unemployment so that it doesn’t evolve into complete misery.

So. A few tips…

  1. Remember: You are more than your career. Many people would agree with this statement, but fewer truly understand what it means. A fulfilling and meaningful career can certainly add to someone’s level of happiness, sense of purpose, and sense of worth. (My work on A Brave Life does this for me.) However, if these three things are entirely wrapped up in an unpredictable external factor such as your job, you’re in trouble. The truth is, you are a person of value simply because you were born, you’re here, and you’re part of our community. What I’m trying to say is that if during this month of your life you are not able to enjoy the stability, income, and sense of accomplishment that a full-time job brings, you are not a loser. You’re simply an incredible person without a job. And there’s a BIG difference.
  2. Worry about today and chuck the rest. There are two things that mess with my sanity: dwelling too much on the past and worrying too much about the future. (Therapist’s note: The former creates the experience of depression. The latter creates the experience of anxiety.) Do you know the adage, “pain is inevitable but suffering is optional”? Well…WORD. So while it’s tempting to say “I should have started applying to jobs earlier,” or “Where will I live if I’m still out of work 6 months from now?,” it doesn’t really help you find a job today, nor does it ease any symptoms of depression or anxiety you may be experiencing. If you’ve sent out resumes, or networked, or made follow-up calls, or found some promising job listings today, you’ve done all that you can do. You’ve had a good day. Be satisfied with that or you’ll literally worry yourself into cardiac arrest.
  3. Expand your definition of “work” and know that any form of it is a valuable use of time, whether you’re being paid or not. One of the main reasons I felt so depressed during my first month of unemployment was because I felt useless. On top of this I felt guilty that my husband worked so hard to pay our bills and feed us. My sense of productivity was completely tied up in my career — and with that kind of limited thinking it’s no wonder I’d been feeling like a turd! So whether you’re spending your weekdays at home learning how to cook, running errands for your loved ones, working on a creative project you’ve been putting off for years, cleaning and organizing your basement, exercising daily, babysitting your nephew, or volunteering somewhere, you can pat yourself on the back – you’re being productive and useful. This period of unemployment is temporary. You are experiencing a season in your life in which you have time to be who you’ve always wanted to be. And that’s quite awesome if you think about it.
  4. Check in often with your partner (or best friend, or therapist, etc…). One morning as I was driving my husband to work, I had a mini panic attack. A lack of calls back from prospective employers had gotten me pretty discouraged and nervous about the future. But sharing all of this with the hubster made me feel a LOT better, not just because I got it off my chest but because he helped me work through my anxiety. (I was making poor job hunting choices due to a sense of desperation…but he reminded me that financially, we were not quite doomed.) Basically, my husband gave me one of those sanity-saving reality checks that he’s so good at, and as a result I began feeling safer, more confident in our financial game plan, and more focused with my job hunting decisions.
  5. Stay connected to other unemployed people. One thing that helped me stay sane was checking in with people in my graduating class who were also looking for work at the time – it made me feel like I was not alone. We encouraged one another, vented, and shared job postings. But the best thing I did for myself was talk to my older friends, particularly a long-time unemployed one who had some great sanity-saving tips to share, like:
  •  Don’t job hunt everyday- it brings down your spirits. 2-3 times per week is good enough.
  • Establish a routine every day and keep busy.
  • Don’t take things so personally. There are probably dozens, if not hundreds of people applying for the same jobs you are, especially in this economy. So don’t assume that you’re not good enough at what you do; it’s just that there’s tons of competition out there.

You may have lost your job but you don’t have to lose your sanity. Best of luck to you!

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16 Responses to 5 Ways To Stay Sane While Unemployed

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  3. Kaffee says:

    I read this when you first posted it and hoped that I wouldn’t have to refer back to it (sorry dude, no offense). But here I am, waiting for my unemployment benefits to kick in, weighing my options with health insurance, and kinda flapping in the wind financially. I wish I had a darling significant other to tow the rope right now, but alas, it’s not the case. (applications for sugar daddies/sugar mamas available. lol) I’ve been trying to get through day by day, making a good decision, then making another good decision… and haven’t really had much time or energy to look towards the future. Go back to school for OT and rack up some more debt (I can see those numbers rolling up like one of those old fashion gas station pumps.. CHING CHING CHING!!) and take a chance on a career that has been said to be one of the top growing fields. Or try to do a sink or swim let me build up a freelance/per diem thing like a girl *ahem* woman I just met has been able to do for herself as a psychotherapist/certified nutritional counselor. Or take something at a group home…but I am afraid of getting into the same situation that I was just in… over worked, underpaid with no future and also no time/energy to really plan for the future. (I wonder if I am shooting myself in the foot with the view on this option. oh here goes that over thinking thing again!)
    I have to tell you that unemployment has been teaching me to throw that pride out the window and ask for help. Everyone I encounter that I get on the subject of ‘hey what do you do’, I end telling my employment woes to. (Sorry people out there that I just met and totally spilling my stuff on. I’ll try to reel it in.) But I have received a lot of support this way, helpful hints, and yes… some people who don’t understand what I went to school for but truly mean well.
    I have consulted with my BFF today (the one who posted previously on this blog entry that she just came back from the Peace Corp) and she gave me permission to become a boomerang child if it comes to it. It’s great to remember… oh yeah… I’m not a useless turd because I have to go back to Mommy and Daddy’s. I know that you chose to go back for financial reasons and pay off some mundo debt and that also makes me feel less of a turd because I know someone who did it.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Hi Kaffee! Each of the three options you laid out have their pros and cons. I have some thoughts on them but I’ll save it for when I see you next. (Which will incidentally be when we’re watching exotic male dancers jiggle our financial worries away, even if for just 2 hours.)

      I would never EVER consider you of all people a worthless turd, even if you do end up becoming a boomerang child. You have such a great skill set, presence, personality and spirit — the world is lucky to have you. It’s just not willing to *pay you* is all. ;)

      Yes, at times we all need help, and for you along with countless others, now is simply one of those times. When I learned about sustainable living communities during my road trip to the Wild Goose Festival (which you would have loved, by the way — wanna come with me next year?), I had a fantasy of a whole bunch of my friends joining forces (in a creative and slightly kumbaya way) so that we can keep afloat without adding more unnecessary debt to our lives. Again, let’s talk more later, over popcorn and jiggling, spray-tanned butt cheeks.

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  6. Jess says:

    This post just made me feel so much better about being unemployed. I just came back from Peace Corps in October. It’s been hard to feel productive and worthwhile, when nearly everyone in my life works, then asks about my job searching, then gives suggestions. And they also make comments about how lucky I am or how “I wish I could sit around all day and do nothing” or “why are you tired? You didn’t have to work today”.

    I do feel that this time is a blessing that gives me freedom to do what I want, without the fear of going broke (My darling hubby is working). But there are still the moments of doubt, where I feel sad or anxious about when my life will begin to move forward in the career area.

    Your blog made me feel re-energized about appreciating this time that I have to do the things I’ve always wanted.
    Thank you!

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Hi Jess,

      First…I’m SO jealous, Ms. Peace Corps! I actually wanted to join but around the time the idea first popped up in my head I was in the very crucial first stage of my career and training as a therapist, so I decided not to pursue it. Thank you so much for your service– I’d love to hear more about it some time.

      I’m so glad to hear that this post resonated with you. Unemployment can be an emotional roller coaster and real energy-zapper. There’s no doubt that you’ll find a job one day and get things going in terms of your career, but in the meantime, this can be a very liberating and exciting season in your life if you choose to live it that way. (Had I not been unemployed/ unhappily working as a temp for so long I would have never started Brave Bride or A Brave Life!)

      Good luck! And don’t be too shy to keep me updated on all the neat things you intend to do with this time off. :)

  7. Sheryl says:

    Kim, again with the timely posts. Shortly after your meantime job post I was let go – so a post about staying sane while unemployed is really helpful. It’s really easy to feel like I’m a less worthwhile person for not holding onto the job, or as if there’s something wrong with me or start the endless cycle of worrying.

    But! There are so many other, better things for me to do with my time. And for the first time in a long time, my time is *mine*. Sure, I’m looking for work. But I’m also getting to spend more time reading for pleasure, cleaning my kitchen (after I bake up big messes in it), working on complex needlework (I’m gearing up to learn to quilt) and it’s going to give me the chance to catch up on parts of my social life I’ve neglected.

    But it can be very, very hard to focus on the positives. So thank you for the tips!

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Sorry to hear about your recent unemployment, Sheryl. It’s a rough way to start the new year but I also see that you’re putting this season of your life to good use — baking me cupcakes and knitting little outfits for my cats. ;) Just goes to show that even a difficult and stressful situation has room in it for some positive change, creativity, productivity, and the strengthening of relationships. Just curious, what line of work were you in?

      Also, here’s a fun fact: I discovered my love of blogging during my unemployment of 2010, before which I had never written a blog post in my life! Now blogging is an essential component of my online counseling practice. So for me, unemployment ironically served as a positive thing for my career.

      • Sheryl says:

        I was an admin assistant for a (very) small business – it was an opportunity that just sort of fell in my lap awhile back to get me out of retail. It was really more of a “job” than a career, so I’m figuring now is a great time to get more in tune with where I want to be careerwise.

        That’s pretty cool that you fell in love with blogging during unemployment! I’m certainly benefiting from that because I absolutely love your blog. Also – online counselling? If I haven’t mentioned before, that is a brilliant way to connect with people and grow yourself professionally. Very creative.

        I’ve been feeling lately as if when I graduated university and entered the work world I lost touch with myself a little bit – hobbies and passions and being involved in volunteering kind of fell by the wayside. Now that I have free time I’m hoping to spend some of it getting back in touch with those things, and making sure the things I really love get more space in my life. So it’s all going to be good in the end. :)

        • Kimberly Eclipse says:

          You have such a great attitude- I love it! I hope you’ll update me (or write on your blog) about all the neat things you’re doing. I also love hearing about people’s career aspirations, especially when they’re making a big change. So keep me posted!

          Yes, unemployment opens so many unexpected doors. It’s not all sunshine of course — I think my advice in the blog post loses a bit of its power after you’ve been unemployed for a several months. (Also, eventually money runs out and you HAVE to accept just about any kind of job you can get your hands on.) But sometimes desperation breeds soul-searching about what you *really* want your career to look like. Or it can breed creativity, like with my idea for online counseling at a time when no mental health agencies were hiring.

          • Sheryl says:

            Thank you! Having a positive attitude is definitely a choice, because it would be so easy to be negative about being unemployed – but that’s not going to get me anywhere, right? I will definite keep you updated on how things go (your blog has become one of my daily internet stops).

            Actually, very excitingly, yesterday I had a very positive interview (from the very first resume I sent out, no less!) and I’m really excited to see what might come from that.

            Did you find when starting your business that you ran into any extra legal/regulatory obstacles by going online? I know a lot of the health care industry is highly regulated, and I’m really curious as to whether you ran into extra obstacles because of that?

            • Kimberly Eclipse says:

              It’s awesome that ABL has become one of your daily internet stops! You just made my day. :) And you’re making me wish that I had the time to produce a new post 5x per week. Hmm…we’ll see – maybe one day.

              Yay on your great interview! Hope it works out for you!

              I haven’t run into any legal problems with doing online counseling except for the fact that I cannot accept payment from people’s insurance plans since providers won’t cover it like they do regular therapy. (Which, by the way, it totally lame! Online counseling would be great for homebound people, people living in remote rural areas, busy people with crazy schedules, or Canadians who want to work with me. ;) )

              PS. When I respond to your comments do you get an email notification about it?

              • Sheryl says:

                5 posts a week would be awesome one day – but the fact is that the posts you do put up are all so awesome and thought provoking that you don’t need 5 (in my opinion).

                It is pretty silly that insurance plans aren’t willing to pay for online therapy, just for the the fact that it’s online. Boo to that. I’m glad to hear you haven’t run into any other obstacles though.

                As far as emails when you reply, I haven’t gotten any. (I just have waaaay too much time one my hands!)

                • Kimberly Eclipse says:

                  You just made my day (again) with that first sentence. You’re on a roll! I might have to tell your prospective employers not to hire you so that you continue to have way too much time on your hands and chat all day with me until the end of time.

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