Stress + Unemployment = ?

Right off the bat I am pretty sure some people who might benefit from reading this post will pass it by just based on the title. Why?

As humans, it’s natural for us to avoid at all costs things that probably will be uncomfortable or unpleasant. So why then read about stress and throw in unemployment for good measure; especially if you are unemployed and feeling beat down under a mountain of stress? What possible good could come of that?

The answer is that understanding stress, and the relationship of stress and unemployment can help put some things in perspective, answer a few nagging questions, the most notable being, “Why do I feel so bad all the time?” Stress is almost always thought of in a negative way, but stress itself is inherently neither good nor bad, and in some situations stress can be the very thing that prompts action necessary to survive.

An example of the above might be when you’re walking home at night alone and you feel fearful of dark recesses and alleys. So what happens when a cat shrieks out and races up a tree? Your heat pounds, your alertness accelerates, the body produces more adrenalin, and you immediately flee to a safety zone or turn in a defensive pose prepared to face the source of the danger. This is the classic fight or flight response. Stress in this case is useful as a survival mechanism.

However, unemployment in the later quarter of 2013 has dragged out for many job seekers, well beyond what they believed would be their personal period of unemployment. What may have appeared to be short-term, a couple of months at most, may have been stretched to over a year or even two. During that time, a major drop in financial reserves, perhaps a need to move to cheaper accommodations, selling off of valued items, a loss of status in social circles, and a growing isolation may have brought on depression and hopelessness.

It’s pretty safe to say that people aren’t expected or equipped to deal with multiple sources of stress to the extent they are, over such long periods of time. The body is well-equipped to deal with sources of stress in short-term situations; like that cat in the alley, but to deal with unemployment over years or many months and at the same time handle all the other things life in 2013 brings, can be downright unbearable.

So what’s the answer? Let’s look beyond getting a job, because that smacks of an easy fix. But just for the record, while landing a job does eliminate many sources of stress, such as replenishing income, improving healthy eating and better housing, it brings on new and generally welcomed sources of new stressors. There’s a new boss and co-workers to get along with, new expectations of high performance, job responsibilities to learn, and maybe debts to repay.

To counter the long-term effects of negative stress, there are some things that you can do, even on a fixed income. Get regular exercise. Establish some routine that gets you out in the fresh air each day, even if it’s a gentle start like going for a walk. Appreciate what you see as you move around the neighbourhood, note the changing seasons, home renovations, watch some progress in construction, say hello to those you pass. Not only are you working your legs and your lungs, you’re now feeding your brain with data with stimuli that is beyond you and your problems. Saying hello to other people keeps you connected, approachable, and one day could result in more than a simple greeting and who knows if your next job lead isn’t out walking her dog right now?

Design and work a plan. Thinking back to the early days of your unemployment, you may have had optimism and more energy to find work than you do now, and that’s to be expected. So working a plan is something you may have let go. Recapturing some of that plan and then in small steps working the plan can give you a feeling of progress and accomplishment. Build in ideas like making connections, looking up past co-workers and calling on past employers.

Updating your skills can be costly, but there are some things you can do entirely free. Use a computer search engine and look for free on-line keyboarding programs to improve your typing speed and accuracy. Learn how to use Excel, the latest version of MS Word, drop in at a library or call ahead and ask about courses and free classes. Contacting a local employment agency might reveal a free program to help with gaining employment that you are unaware of.

Look in the mirror too, and pick up that razor and maybe get back to the beardless man you might have been when you were working; or trim things up so you look better. You’d be surprised at the impact on your spirit just by looking better on the outside. And that resume that obviously isn’t working or hasn’t been used of late; time for an objective look and perhaps an overhaul. Get someone with expertise in that area, and maybe someone who is employed in the field you want to work in to look it over. Listen to their recommendations and ideas.

All the best.

By Kelly Mitchell, BA

*Original published at: and reposted with the author’s permission.

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