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12 Depression Busters for the Unemployed

By Therese J. Borchard
Associate Editor

The unemployment rate today has skyrocketed and is forecast to stay 2012.

According to a recent study published in the “International Journal of Epidemiology,” unemployment is a major risk factor for depression, even in people without previous vulnerability.

Here, then, are 12 steps to bust your depression if you’re unemployed.

1. Take a breather

Whether you like it or not, you’ve just been given a breather. And chances are that you desperately needed it. One exercise to make you feel better immediately is to think about everything you hated about your job. In fact, make a list! Doesn’t that feel good? You will rejoin the rat race , so allow yourself some rest right now … a chance to actually eat a meal at home and not watch the minute hand of your watch so much. Try to appreciate the moment in present time, without constantly rushing. This break from the pressure of corporate business will teach you more lessons and make you more resilient than you know.

2. Identify symptoms

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression affects 6 million men each year. But most men’s depression goes undiagnosed. They are much less likely to seek help because of the macho thing (they feel like they are supposed to tough it out) and because their symptoms are different than those we typically associate with depression (women’s). So it’s helpful to look out for these clues of male depression: irritability and anger, blaming others, alcohol and drug abuse, feeling ashamed, insomnia or sleeping too little, strong fear of failure, using TV, sports, and sex to self-medicate.

3. Get to work!

Before you get too cozy in your robe and slippers and watch too much TV, there’s this piece of advice: Get to work! Just because you don’t have a nice sum of money being deposited into your bank account every other week does not mean you don’t have a job. You have several, actually, and the sooner you start, the easier they will be:

1. Polish your resume and CV. Like, for example, take out the part where you said you were class president of your class in high school.

2. Network. That’s easier today with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You’ve got tons of contacts right there at your finger tips.

3. Evaluate your career. Maybe it’s the wrong time to ask the question “Is this really what I want to be doing?” But it could also be the right time, if there ever was a right time. If you really hated your job, entertain the possibility of doing something totally different! .

4. Shift your self-esteem

Most of us get our self-esteem from our jobs, because we subscribe to a work ethic, which dictates that hard work is central to your life. We are a little obsessed with work. Men’s self-definition, especially, is wrapped up in their job, so any demotion or pink slip is a major blow to their ego and self-esteem. David Burns describes three levels of self-esteem in his book, “10 Days to Self-Esteem”: conditional, unconditional, and “non-existent self-esteem.” The last is reserved for evolved souls like Mother Teresa and Gandhi. But if we can work toward a place where our self-esteem isn’t as dependent on people, places, and things ( especially our work), we can experience a kind of unmatched freedom.

5. Develop some hobbies and get in shape

This is a perfect time to find out what you like to do, aside from working and sleeping. Leisure isn’t a luxury for the rich and lazy. Active leisure–where you do more than control the remote–has many health benefits. There was a recent study by Salvatore Madde that showed how active leisure (for four to six hours a week) protected people from experiencing stress and developing depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and overeating problems. If you do nothing else with your time away from the office, at least begin a health plan and start working out. You will benefit enormously from the antidepressant effects of exercise alone.

6. Work on a budget

You are going to be much less stressed out if you look the fear in the face, than if you run from it. The fear, of course, being your budget. Cut out all expenses that aren’t absolutely necessary: coffee shops, a landline phone number that you don’t use, cleaning help, DSTV . Come up with some meals that are healthy but save money on expensive products. Involve the whole family in these decisions. The more control you have over your financial situation, the less prone to depression you’ll be.

7. Connect with others

It’s easy to isolate yourself when you lose your job. But it’s about the worst thing you can do for your mood. In her PsychCentral blog post, “Keeping My Sanity After Two Layoffs,” Stacey Goldstein describes what she did wrong after the first layoff and what she did right the second time. The first time she made herself leave the house every day, to go to the gym or to see a friend, but she still spent way too much time by herself. The second time she got a part-time job and volunteered on several committees of her community. Both required her to check in with other folks, and brought opportunities to network.

8. Stick to a schedule

Humans thrive when they keep to a routine. Our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour clock system wired into our brain that governs fluctuations in body temperature and the secretion of several hormones, and even our metabolism, require a kind of regular pattern. So stick to one even when you don’t have to. Imagine that you are working from home (because you are). Then structure your day as such. For example, work out in the morning, make some calls after you get back, eat an inexpensive lunch, follow up on some leads during the afternoon, and spend time with friends, family or watch TV in the evening.

9. Watch your thoughts

It’s easy to panic when something goes wrong in our life. One negative thought builds on another, and before we know it, we’re in the middle of a real panic attack. However, sometimes we can pluck the seeds of negativity right as they are planted, so that our recovery efforts don’t have to involve a paper bag. Just being aware of our thoughts can eliminate many of the trouble-makers. I identify a few of the really severe toxic thoughts to watch out for. You may also check out David Burns’s “Feeling Good” for more and for some techniques on how to untwist them.

10. Become useful

Everyone needs to feel useful. That’s why so much of our self-esteem hinges on our job performance. But there are a myriad of ways to feel useful even if you’re unemployed. for example, has take on more of the responsibilities for the kids doing their home work with them, setting up playdates, and driving to all their sports events. Take the dog to the vet. Look in your community near your home, is their a pet shelter, an old age home, a hospital , a church, who could use your free help a couple of times a week. Although you have less projects at work, you have more at home and in the community where you are very much needed. Brainstorming for ways you can be useful outside of a job is definitely a mood booster.

11. Prepare for reentry

You might want to also prepare yourself for a tough re-entry. Recent research says that some folks who have been unemployed for long periods of time experience anxiety and depression upon going back to work because the creditors are after them (hence there is more stress), and they are worried that they if they don’t perform perfectly, they will be fired again. However, merely being aware of this can eliminate much of the anxiety. Just know that should you experience the same kind of thing, you are certainly not alone in these feelings.

12. Maintain hope

Having hope is the greatest stress reducer. Hope, doctors say, is about the best thing you can do for your body. So even though you might feel lost and disillusioned, with no path or direction visible to your eyes, it’s true that “when one door shuts, another one opens.” So keep hoping and looking for new small challenges every day.

Therese J. Borchard is the author of Beyond Blue


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