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Not Feeling Very Merry and Bright? Tough When Unemployed Over The Holidays

How to deal with long-term unemployment over the holidays

Holiday-StressLong-term unemployment causes more than just financial stress.  There’s the personal stress, the shame, and the worry that you can’t meet others’ expectations, particularly when you’re unemployed over the holidays.  The fear and shame grow exponentially as the holidays approach.

In 2011, Michelle Hirsch & Eric Pianin wrote an article for THE FISCAL TIMES about the “silent mental health” epidemic created by long-term unemployment, and the feelings of despair and hopelessness caused by the crisis. In the article, they reference the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development(Rutgers University) brief on long-term unemployment.  Among their findings, especially among respondents 50 years or older who were unemployed for more than two years were the following statistics:

  • 76% reported changes in sleep patterns
  • 70% reported strain in family relationships
  • 62% said they felt embarrassed or ashamed by being out of work
  • 46% avoided social situations with friends of acquaintances

The numbers are alarming, as is the pain these individuals suffer.  They are terrified and hurting. The stress can cause conflict with friends and family, which escalates the stress and hurt.

It’s easy to say “get out of the house; reach out; your friends will love you anyway.”  It’s harder to actually do it.  So much of our culture depends on money:  rent, food, entertainment, and the constant “sexy” marketing campaigns.  The stress of not knowing whether or not you can keep a roof over your family’s heads or put together enough food for the next meal is stressful enough; add holiday expectations to the mix, and it becomes overwhelming.  It’s also discouraging to spend hours every day applying for jobs and not hearing back, as the demands for bill payment — including internet service, which is the way most people now find jobs — rise.

Loss of a job equates to a type of death, explains Nancy Wiley, founder of Odonata Psychotherapy and Retreat Center on Cape Cod, and Associate Professor of Psychology at Cape Cod Community College.  Losing a job is a type of “ambiguous loss”, without societal rituals or a death certificate. “Job loss affects one’s identity and role in society,” says Wiley.  “Now add in the loss of a home, a car, health insurance, retirement, and it can be emotionally and psychologically devastating. Add in being a parent and the need to be a hero to your children during the holidays, this pain can be excruciating. Anyone who deals with grief and loss will tell you the worst time for clients is during the holidays. That is why it is a terrible shame that more people do not take ambiguous losses seriously.”

Wiley continues, “What can we do as clinicians is give the person permission to grieve and work through the stages of grief you are giving the person the freedom to unchain themselves from the grief through the final stage: acceptance. With this type of therapy, the disenfranchised worker can acknowledge the good, bad, and ugly of the prior job and decisions that were made in their life revolving around that job such as work hours, income, time away from family, lack of or need for more education, and others.  This not only unchains the person from their grief, but also empowers them to work harder to not only find a job but to be a better worker and many times taking the step to further their education.”

Finding a meditation group or steady yoga/exercise practice can also help.  Yoga instructor and life coachDavid Romanelli suggests that yoga is a great way to get back in touch with cycles of life, something that’s often hard to remember in the sense of isolation that comes with feeling ashamed of being unemployed and without funds during the holidays.

“One thing about yoga is that it gets you back in the natural rhythm of life,” says Romanelli.  “To every inhale, there’s an exhale. For every winter, there’s a summer. By embracing yoga to get out of our head and back to what’s natural, we have a sense that our sun will rise again. And on that note, one thing commonly seen in old people who are happy and healthy…RESILIENCE. They have their hard knocks and tough times, and they keep on trucking.”

There are a variety of low cost ways to relax and rejuvenate.  You can borrow instructional DVDs from the library or visit Do Yoga With Me for free yoga videos.  If you have a pair of running shoes, try running in your neighborhood or through a nearby park or on the beach.  If you’re looking for a more structured environment visit your local high school track, many are open to the public. Meditation is a good way to quiet your mind, and gives you the chance to think clearly and make informed decisions in new directions.  Visit Free Mediation to learn more.

 Coursera is an online site for free classes in arts, sciences, humanities, and more, from ivy-league level universities all over the world.  You’ll be in class with 70,000 strangers who become your support group and peers, learning skills that make you more employable in the workforce.  Some courses even offer certification.

The important things to remember that long-term unemployment is not a personal failure, and you are not alone.

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