The stress of unemployment can take a serious toll on your well-being under any circumstance. But during the coronavirus pandemic, your stress levels may be even higher than usual.
With our current situation and the state of the global economy, there is a much lower chance of landing a new job anytime soon. And it’s unclear when social distancing measures will end or what shape the economy will be in when you are able to return to work.
Add in the fear of getting sick, the inability to leave home, and the need to educate your children, and you’ve got a recipe for an increased risk of mental health issues.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to cope with the stress in a healthy way if you’ve lost your job. Managing your distress and taking positive action may help you maintain your mental health during this crisis.
The Link Between Unemployment and Mental Health
Unemployment has been linked to a greater risk of depression, anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, and violence.
In fact, studies show people who lose their jobs are twice as likely to report depression and anxiety symptoms when compared with people who remain stably employed.
Here are several reasons why not having a job can take a serious toll on your psychological well-being:
Difficulty paying for basic necessities – Reduced income makes it difficult to purchase food and pay for housing. The associated stress makes it difficult to stay mentally healthy.Lack of purpose – Not contributing to society and not bringing home any income to support the family can leave some people feeling as though their lives lack meaning and purpose.Reduced social interaction – Not having a job can mean less social interaction, which takes a direct toll on mood and well-being. Fewer resources available to maintain mental health – When your time and energy have to go into managing your life (food, housing, and basic necessities), you have fewer resources left to devote to behaviors that promote good mental health (exercising, maintaining social relationships, etc). Unhealthy coping skills may be more tempting – While some people may respond to unemployment by cutting things that cost extra, others turn to unhealthy coping skills like drugs and alcohol, which can take a toll on health and well-being.
There are two main things you can do to manage your mental health when faced with this situation: address your unemployment, and address how you feel about being unemployed.
Tackle the Problem
It’s important to take action that will help solve your problems when you’re unemployed, such as looking for resources that help you manage your financial strain and looking for employment.
During the coronavirus pandemic, however, looking for work might not be so easy. You might be waiting for businesses to open up, so you can return to your old job. Or you might not be certain if your old job will even exist when this is over.
There are few places hiring right now, so your chances of getting another job at the moment are limited. But this doesn’t mean you should idly wait for things to get better. You can take action now to manage your finances and address your employment situation.
This action might include things such as:
Apply for unemployment – Filing for unemployment may reduce your financial strain.Look for new job opportunities – Whether you search for a new full-time job, or you look for ways to make money in the “gig economy,” actively searching for work can help you feel better.Create a budget – Creating a budget can help you gain a better sense of control over your financial situation.Manage your payments – Explaining your situation to your credit card company, mortgage lender, and other financial institutions may help lower your payments. Financial institutions may also grant you more time to pay your bills.Search for helpful resources – Whether you want to talk to a career counselor, or you’re looking for help with paying your electric bill, there may be resources available.Further your education – Taking classes for credit or signing up for an online course for your own enrichment could be helpful to your career.Update your resume – Updating your resume (and asking for feedback from others) might increase your chances of landing a job if you start applying for new positions.
Tackle How You Feel About the Problem
In addition to addressing your employment issues, you can also address your emotional distress head-on.
Practice good self-care – Getting plenty of sleep and eating a healthy diet is key to managing your distress. You need to take care of your body if you want your mind to function at an optimal level. Maintain social interaction – While you may not be able to meet with your friends in person, it’s important to stay in contact. Video chat, talk on the phone, or message one another regularly. Positive social interaction can greatly improve your mental health.Structure your day – Staying on a schedule can help you feel better. Create time to work on your job situation, time for leisure, and time to do things that help improve your mental health.Get physically active – Exercise is a key component to good mental health. During the pandemic, you may need to get creative since most gyms are closed. But working out in your living room with an app or video can go a long way toward helping you stay physically and mentally healthy.Reach for healthy coping skills – Writing in a journal, meditating, deep breathing, and yoga are just a few examples of healthy ways to relieve stress. Make sure you have plenty of healthy coping skills at your disposal, so you can reach for something healthy when your distress starts to increase.Eliminate unhealthy coping skills – You might be tempted to turn to things that give you some immediate relief—like alcohol or food. But these things will cause more problems for you in the long term. So make unhealthy coping skills harder to access, and monitor your use. You don’t want to accidentally create bigger problems or introduce new problems into your life. “Change the channel” when you’re ruminating – Dwelling on things you have no control over will keep you stuck in an unhealthy state. If you find yourself thinking about how awful your life is, or you’re making catastrophic predictions, then interrupt yourself. Get up and do something to change the channel in your brain. Distract yourself with a chore or activity.Talk to a professional if you’re struggling – If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, or you’re having difficulty functioning, contact a mental health professional. Talk therapy or medication may help you feel better.
Resources That Can Help
There are many employment and financial resources that have become available during the coronavirus pandemic for individuals who have lost their jobs.
Whether you’re concerned about health insurance, or you’re having difficulty paying your utility bill, 211 may be able to direct you to someone who can help. They specialize in locating helpful resources, and it’s free of charge.
State Government Websites
Every state offers slightly different benefits and services, so it’s important to go to your state’s website. The website can help you locate financial assistance programs and an application for unemployment.
This website explains unemployment benefits and can help you discover your eligibility.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
This bill, enacted in March 2020, explains unemployment benefits, paid sick leave rules, and food assistance benefits during the pandemic.
Small Business Administration (SBA)
Small businesses may apply for low-interest disaster loans, some of which may be forgiven. Learn more here
The Feeding America website provides information on local food banks and how to access them during this crisis.
A Word From Verywell
It’s frustrating and scary to be unemployed. And it’s tough to plan for the future right now due to the uncertainty of the situation. But taking care of yourself and your mental health can help you cope with some of the distress you’re feeling.
If you’re struggling to manage your mental health, however, it’s not a sign of weakness. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talking to a therapist can help. And there are many ways to reach out to a therapist online right now, so you don’t even have to leave home to do it.