Nearly 60 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March, as businesses continue to navigate a struggling economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the last month alone, the United States has seen more job losses than the last recession saw over two full years. A dramatic, indefinite shift like this is anxiety-provoking under normal circumstances — but add a global pandemic and ongoing social distancing orders, and it may feel like the world is coming to an end.
If you’ve recently lost your job, been furloughed or laid off, you may be struggling to manage feelings of hopelessness and uncertainty about your future, as well as the well being of your family. You’re worried about your finances, lack of healthcare, and finding a new job, all while simultaneously coping with the loss of your daily routine and sense of security. This rollercoaster of emotions can, at times, be debilitating. Fortunately, there are several ways to maintain your mental health during this difficult situation.
Allow yourself time to grieve.
While grief is typically associated with death, losing a job can also be devastating and traumatic. Mourning your job is completely natural, as, for many of us, it also means the loss of a particular identity and lifestyle. Such a dramatic change may leave you feeling sad, angry, depressed, or even numb. This may also be accompanied by a sense of shock, given how rapidly the coronavirus pandemic is evolving and impacting our lives in unexpected ways. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, rather than run away from them. While many people believe feeling less is a sign of moving on, bottling up these emotions can allow them to pervade our lives further down the road. Accept that feeling sad, frustrated, scared, and angry is normal. Recognizing these feelings as such can allow you to cope with them appropriately, heal, and move on.
Focus on what you can control.
Accepting that the coronavirus pandemic and your unemployment are out of your control can feel scary. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try instead focusing on what you can control. At first, this may be little things like your attitude towards the situation. While you may not influence the job market, you can control how you react and manage your emotions. If finances are your biggest worry, consider areas in your spending where you can cut back. Look into state-level and federal resources and consider applying for unemployment benefits. For more help with finances, sites like Nerd Wallet and FindHelp have created several resources for navigating coronavirus-related layoffs, unemployment benefits, and health insurance.
Maintain a daily routine.
While it’s tempting to stay in bed all day when you don’t need to go into the office, it’s important to follow a regular schedule. Studies show that following a routine can help regulate mood and help ward off depression. Having set wake up and shower times and a normal meal schedule can help you feel accomplished and energized while out of work. Developing and adhering to this schedule can also help create a sense of normalcy, so you don’t stay up all night binge-watching TV and sleeping in too late. Additionally, you should get in the habit of showering and dressing in real clothes as if you are going into the office. While you don’t need to wear a suit around the house, practicing self-care and maintaining good hygiene can boost your mood and overall sense of optimism. Staying in your pajamas all day may keep you feeling stuck and lead you to eat poorly and drink more.
Accept the current reality.
After giving yourself time to process the emotional loss, it’s important to accept the current situation. A lot of stress and anxiety comes from not knowing when the coronavirus pandemic will be over and what the job market will look like once it is. It’s understandable to be worried about so much uncertainty in the world, but dwelling on the unknown isn’t productive. Rather than focusing on the future, accept that your life may be different for a while, but this is only temporary. Reminding yourself that this period of unemployment will not define your life's rest can ease your anxiety. Understanding that you aren’t the only one navigating unemployment right now can also put things in perspective. Know that this layoff isn't about you or your skills but about the larger economy.
You should also remember to incorporate exercise when building out this schedule. Exercise can help reduce elevated cortisol or stress levels, as well as trigger the release of endorphins. This can also be a much-needed break from your job search. If you’ve had to cut back on your gym membership or can’t afford one right now, you can do plenty of workouts from home. Like Peloton, Down Dog, and CorePower Yoga, several companies are also offering free or discounted classes. If you decide to exercise outside, just be sure to practice social distancing.
Limit alcohol consumption.
While having a glass or two of wine might seem like a great way to destress, alcohol can negatively impact your mental health. Though relaxing at first, alcohol is a depressant and can deplete your brain’s serotonin levels, leading to feelings of increased anxiety and depression. Additionally, alcohol can make it difficult to get restful sleep and reduce your energy level.
With so much uncertainty in the world right now, it’s easy to get caught up thinking about the future. And if you’re unemployed, you may be spending your newfound free time ruminating on your career. Practicing mindfulness can reduce some of that anxiety and help you feel more rooted in the present. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try a body scan like this one. You can also start a gratitude journal and list three things you are thankful for each day. For more mindfulness, practices see here.
Set limits on your job search.
Though you may be anxious to get a new job, spending all your time on your job search can be stressful and depressing. When creating a schedule for yourself, try setting aside certain hours of the day for your applications. This will motivate you to be extra productive during this time window and help you feel more present.
Take up a new hobby.
Unanticipated time off can be hard, but try to reframe it as an opportunity to do something you were always too busy for. Have a household project you’ve been putting off or been too busy to get around to? Now’s your chance! Organize your closet or put together that bookshelf that’s been sitting in the corner. During this time, new hobbies can give you something to look forward to and keep you busy. Consider learning a new language, instrument, or craft. Get outdoors and start gardening or growing your own herbs and vegetables. Many sites like MasterClass, Class Central, and Scholastic offer free or discounted virtual classes.
Ask for help.
While social distancing orders are in place, you don’t have to go through this tough period alone. Millions of Americans are struggling with the situation and know exactly what you are going through. Though you may be limited in physical contact, there are plenty of ways to connect with friends and family virtually to get support. You can also continue networking through sites like LinkedIn and online professional development groups and communities for your particular field or career. These are great ways to get ideas for your job search and get your name out there. We recommend checking out COVID Coach, a free app that connects you to important resources to cope and adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you’re still struggling with your mental health, the One Medical 24/7 virtual care team will help. Learn more about how One Medical can support you with coronavirus and all other mental health-related concerns here.