When we are under stress, we begin to experience major mood swings. In a new relationship, for example, we are ecstatic when the phone rings, depressed and tearful when we don’t hear anything for two or three days. When we are sick, we are elated when tests come back negative, fearful and exhausted when a problem is identified. Working under a demanding tyrant, we feel upbeat with any shred of praise and despondent when the inevitable criticism splashes us in the face.
The pervasiveness of being out of work affects many parts of our lives: our finances, our family, our egos, and our inner sense of self. Because unemployment anxiety cuts to the core of our comfortable lifestyles, we experience a shifting array of intense emotional ups and downs.
Some kind of emotional balance is necessary if we want to stay healthy, maintain our relationships, and be able to function effectively in the job search. Achieving that balance is difficult, and even more so is our own inner turmoil. How do we restore that balance that will make us feel like before, complete, optimistic and complete?
Here are a couple of strategies to try.
1. Regain a broader perspective.
When we are faced with a series of problems, we tend to put on our blinders and only see the obstacles that are staring us in the face. We lose touch with what is happening in the big world we inhabit. Our conversation is reduced to the only topic that haunts us day and night: the need to find work. Friends get bored with our self-centered perspective and relationships suffer from our obsession with our present misfortune. We can become prickly because of the fear and anger that we are experiencing. We may still harbor anger at being fired, and our bitterness seeps into the emotional ties we have with others.
Despite the discomfort and dangers of your current situation, remember that there is an entire universe that is totally ignorant and indifferent to your destiny. Try to live in both worlds. During the time you have scheduled for the job search, focus on that fully. For the rest of the day, zoom in to see what else is going on around you.
Read the newspaper, watch the news, keep up with a changing world. Take time to find out what’s going on in your children’s lives and what your spouse’s workday was like. Take a walk and visit with neighbors to talk about local events and community politics. Not only will you be more welcome when you’re no longer totally consumed by his jobless status, but you’ll feel more like his 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 goes, to “walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins.” You are so anxious and fearful about the future that it is easy to dismiss the concerns of others as insignificant in comparison. Remember that to someone who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, your termination may seem trivial. The importance 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.
Turning our backs on our own concerns, at least occasionally, and reaching out to understand and help others with their own difficulties, gives us some distance from the mounting fears that threaten to overwhelm us. Distance confers objectivity and detachment, qualities that we desperately need if we want to develop creative solutions.
Immerse yourself for a while in the problems of others and you will begin to see that nothing is as horrible as those involved believe. You will find that, as a dispassionate outsider, you can easily see the available options and alternatives.
Your teenage daughter’s devastation at her boyfriend’s rejection may seem like an overreaction. Try looking at it from his 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 blocked career and you’ll experience the same emotional despondency over your lack of success that you feel after an interview that didn’t seem promising.
Our problem-solving skills thrive with practice, and helping others is a wonderful way to develop your own skills while giving them much-needed support. Begin to personally identify with victims of natural disasters who are not only jobless, but without a roof over their heads and desperately missing loved ones who were lost.
Every time we stray a little from our circumscribed personal worlds, our vision expands and our problems shrink in comparison, allowing us to rise above them and meet them as hard as we never can when they loom over them and are insurmountable.