Self-Care Critical to Job Seekers’ Long-Haul Resilience

When the coronavirus pandemic forced lockdowns and closures last spring, tens of thousands of Vermonters became unemployed practically overnight. Nationwide, more than 10 million jobs were lost. Eighteen months into Covid, nearly 10,000 Vermonters are still officially unemployed by state labor department definition. Even that number underestimates the full extent of the problem, because it doesn’t account for those who have been unemployed so long that their benefits have run out or those who were forced to leave the workforce as a result of things like school and child-care closures. The number of people without jobs is likely much higher.

Job seeking? Do it the mindful way. Join our Job Search workshop series and weekly support/discussion group to find out how.

“Whatever the reason, being without a job can be stressful,” says Megan Kastner, a COVID Support VT counselor who leads a workshop series focused on a mindful approach to the job search. “Uncertainty about the future, vulnerabilities around the job search, anticipation, financial worries – all of these increase the anxiety around unemployment. It’s a time for us to pay extra attention to how we treat ourselves.” 

Self-Care Practices for Job Seekers

“Self-care is really about being kind to yourself,” Kastner says. In the COVID Support VT weekly job series workshops, Kastner offers five takeaway tips to help individuals who are unemployed practice self-care.

  • Care for your body and your mind. You’re doing something really difficult, and you’re probably doing it better than you think. Recognize that this is hard. Monitor your thoughts and observe how your body is feeling.
  • Show kindness to yourself. Rejection is inevitable in a job search, but that doesn’t make it easier to accept. Acknowledge the feelings it brings up. Name them, notice the sensations that arise, and let them pass. Take a no as an opportunity to find a job that better suits you.
  • Do things you enjoy. Outside of the job search, use your time to pursue hobbies, activities and interpersonal interactions that bring you joy, that support your mental health, and leave you feeling fulfilled.
  • Take breaks. Job searching can be a mind-numbing process. Pace yourself. One strong mindful application a day may be enough. If you have energy for more, go for it. If you’re feeling burned out, it’s time to take a break and regain some energy.
  • Remember the positives. Find something you can be grateful for, even when things may seem bleak. Fix your attention on what fulfills you. Know that the end result of your job search is ultimately a job. Stay focused on what it is you seek.

New Urgency Around Job Loss Mental Health

Job loss is a major life stressor, and more Americans are experiencing it now than any time since the Great Depression. “The mental health needs of both workers and unemployed individuals has never been more important,” said Leslie Hammer, Ph.D., a research scientist at Portland State University who moderated a recent webinar co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 

The NIMH recently announced funding to encourage research-based interventions to prevent or treat mental health concerns in unemployed and underemployed individuals. “The sharp rise and potentially long duration of unemployment raises concerns about the development or worsening of mental health symptoms and disorders, drug use behaviors, and suicide risk,” the NIMH stated in announcing the funds. 

NIMH suicide prevention researcher Rajeev Ramchand, Ph.D., reviewed the scientific evidence linking job loss to mental health challenges.  At least two large, well-designed longitudinal studies have confirmed that job loss carries a higher risk for depressive symptoms, he said. Other studies suggest that alcohol use – both daily use and binge-drinking episodes — increases after the loss of a job. Some data suggest that job loss also increases risk of suicide, but Ramchand said the evidence is less robust here, suggesting a more nuanced relationship that is mediated by other factors. For example, unemployment can lead to financial problems, housing instability, or food insecurity; each poses mental health challenges.

Mitigating Job-Loss Distress

Taking steps to mitigate the mental distress associated with job loss requires systemic as well as individual action, Ramchand said. Systems-level changes include reducing the “cost” of job loss through measures such as raising the minimum wage and creating a stronger safety net of social services for people facing financial hardship, or supporting employees who are struggling to meet family obligations like child care. 

“If we could make job loss a little less hard for individuals, we could potentially mitigate the consequences of job loss on suicide risk and mental health risk.”

– Rajeev Ramchand, Ph.D., National Institute of Mental Health

For the individual facing job loss, practicing self-care is critical to managing stress and building resilience. Social-service and workforce-support agencies can help by providing useful, evidence-based guidelines for managing stress and building resilience through mental wellness. 

Try This Grounding Exercise for Self-Care

Kastner opens each job search workshop with a short, simple “grounding” exercise to demonstrate one example of self-care. You can do this anywhere and anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or vulnerable and need to take a moment to center yourself. Here’s how:

  1. Find a “self-compassion pose” that you’re comfortable in – place your hand on your heart, or wrap your arm around yourself in a self hug, for example. Whatever helps you connect with your breath and your heartbeat. Close your eyes or keep them soft.
  2. Holding this position, think of something you deserve credit for. Maybe it’s something you had been putting off and finally started, or at least took a step toward it. Or someone you made smile or helped in a small way. 
  3. Notice the feeling of that emotion. Be mindful of where you feel it and how it affects your breathing, your pulse rate. Take as long as you want, as long as you can, to stay with that presence.
  4. Now give yourself a big genuine thank you. 
  5. When it feels right, slowly open your eyes and bring your presence back to the space around you.

Join COVID Support VT’s Job Search Workshop Series

COVID Support VT’s job search workshop series is applicable to all job seekers, whether you’re brand new to the workforce, re-entering it due to pandemic changes, or just looking to brush up on critical skills. It will cover job-search basics over four weeks, meeting every Wednesday at noon. Join one or all.

1st Wednesday: The Job Search Mindset

2nd Wednesday: Resume/Cover Letter Building & Applications

3rd Wednesday: Interview Skills & Next Steps

4th Wednesday: General Job Search Discussion

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