Coping With Unemployment

By Tim Lutenski

Those who are unemployed certainly undergo one of life's most traumatic experiences.  It is a stressful, life-changing event that can lead to negative mental, physical, and emotional consequences, jeopardize financial security, erode the sense of identity, and cause family relationships to deteriorate. 

The biggest challenge and most important job for the unemployed is taking care of oneself.  Here are some suggestions to offer assistance and reassurance during times of transition.

First - Prepare Emotionally

Recognize Job Loss Grief

For people who have just lost a job, their initial reaction may be to immediately proceed with a job search; however, this is not always the best strategy. If financially feasible, it may be better to take some time to decompress, mourn the loss, and reassess individual priorities for the future. While there may be pressure, it is not necessary to quickly figure out what to do with the rest of ones life.  Take time to filter emotions. Counselors may need to help unemployed clients do the same.

Recognize Job Loss Stages

With job loss people generally go through a series of emotional stages that resemble common reactions to death and divorce (these include shock, denial, sadness, guilt, anger, and acceptance).  Individuals may go through some or all of these stages, experience them in any order, and even go through some of these stages more than once. Counselors and their clients need to allow adequate time for working through these stages.

Accept Being Unemployed As A Full-Time Job

Being unemployed can be a difficult, full-time job in itself.  It is demanding and a huge energy drain. Clients may not always realize how time consuming a job search can be, so counselors may need to help them prioritize and structure their search in order to commit the needed time and energy.  Remember to encourage clients take regular breaks, just as workers do at a "normal" job.

Discard Resentment and Bitterness

Holding on to resentment and bitterness can destroy happiness and prevent one from moving forward.  Letting go doesn't mean condoning what has happened; instead, it really is a way to regain control.  Clients who remain resentful and bitter give others power over them, breed negative feelings, and keep one locked in the past rather than focusing on the future.   Help clients let go in order not to sacrifice critical time, creativity, and energy. Give adequate time to process negative feelings, and then start focusing mental and physical energy on strengths and future goals.


Second - Take Proactive Measures

Budget The Basics

Develop a realistic financial plan for these times of limited financial resources and carefully assess income and expenses. Cut corners where needed, rely on savings, pick up a part-time job to cover essential bills, etc.  Counselors may need to assess the financial severity of the client's situation, as some will have greater flexibility with money and time than others.

Maintain  a Routine and Take Care of Yourself

Establish a daily routine and maintain a balance in daily activities. Get proper exercise and adequate sleep, maintain good eating habits, stimulate the mind through activities (such as reading and conversation), socialize, avoid excesses (such as gambling and drinking), and reward progress. Even though it can be hard to get up and get dressed in "work clothes" everyday, keeping a somewhat normal routine can help to provide motivation.

Avoid Isolation and Seek Support

Isolation is a common pitfall of unemployment. Get out of the house, or encourage your clients to do so. Find a place to socialize, conduct your job search activities from a local coffee house, join a local job club or support group, and reach out on a regular basis.  Couples, families, and friends need to make a strong commitment to stick together.  Help your clients assess their network to identify key allies.

Help Others and Volunteer

Look around the community and find worthwhile opportunities to use your skills and talents.  This may be a way to gain new skills, engage in networking, and keep you active and energized. Help clients see the value of volunteer work or community involvement while unemployed.

Consider Income Alternatives

Look for opportunities to trade time, skills, and expertise (rather than money) to obtain goods or services.  Engage clients in a conversation about this topic to explore alternative income sources. 

Add New Job Skills and Broaden Your Identity

Encourage clients to add new job skills not only related to their field, but also skills that will diversify their abilities, enhance their professional marketability, and lead to personal growth.  If taking formal classes or seminars is not an option, this can be done inexpensively through self-paced reading, online tools, and resources at your local library.

Seek Out Free Activities 

A variety of free activities exist in every community, such as free museum days, community or cultural celebrations, lectures at local book stores, etc.  If you draw a blank contact your local college/university or tourist office and find out about free public events being offered.

Third - Look To The Future

  • Quiet your mind to better connect with your inner self. If you are too busy being busy, you may not be listening to the still, small voice of inspiration and wise counsel inside of yourself. We can assist our clients by guiding them through relaxation and visualization exercises.
  • Reflect on your past so you can better evaluate what type of job you would like in the future and the right place to find it. Engage clients in a self-assessment process to identify what they both liked and disliked about their past job.
  • Go exploring. This can be a good time to investigate new careers, gather many new ideas, and rediscover oneself.
  • Follow your passion and research job opportunities. Get out of your comfort zone and find something new, exciting, and completely different. A new job, different career, or new place to live can be found. There's no reward if risks are never taken! Change can be scary for many people, so offer clients a safe place to explore their passions, yet discuss their fears as well.
  • Focus on personal growth. The energy and effort spent dealing with unemployment will ultimately provide greater meaning, and purpose to your life. We can help our clients identify their strengths, keep a positive mindset, and maintain focus on their personal goals and values.

Coping Does Not Last Forever

These are some suggested actions that can help the unemployed cope with the uncertainties of transition, and more productively utilize personal time in moving towards a better future.  Although it is common for many people to feel as if they might be unemployed forever, in actuality most people find jobs relatively soon.  Hopefully these suggestions offer some hints to help both ourselves and our clients cope with unemployment while conducting a job search.


Tim Lutenski is an Instructional Specialist at St. Clair County Community College and the Director of For Your Career.  He teaches courses, workshops, and seminars, coordinates training in career and educational planning, and provides coaching and consultation services.  He works with individuals, groups, and organizations dealing with career issues, and volunteers in providing career guidance to those with special needs, including ex-offenders and the homeless.  He can be reached through his web site atwww.foryourcareer.com or via email at info@foryourcareer.com


Printer-Friendly Version