The unemployment rate today has skyrocketed to approximately 10 percent and is forecast to stay above 9.5 percent for the rest of 2010. For the first time in American history, more women are working than men because close to 80 percent of the people laid off in the recent recession were men.
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. Because my husband is an architect — the housing market is dead, remember — whose work has slowed down substantially, I have an invested interest in this topic and wanted to know what I could do to help him stay physically and emotionally healthy, since, theoretically, one of us should be. Here, then, are 12 steps to bust your depression when 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 soon enough, 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 hiatus from the pressure of corporate America 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 many episodes of “Orpah,” 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 the resume. Like, for example, take out the part where you said you were class president of your freshman class in high school. 2. Network. That’s easy 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! And if it doesn’t work out, please don’t blame me.
4. Shift your self-esteem
Most of us get our self-esteem from our jobs, because we subscribe to a Calvinistic work ethic, which dictates that hard work is central to a person’s calling. We Americans are a tad 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 (and especially our work), we 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 cubicle, 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 monster in the face, than if you run from it. The monster, of course, being your budget. Cut out all expenses that aren’t absolutely necessary: Starbucks coffee, a landline phone number that you don’t use, a cleaning lady or gardening services, cable. Come up with some meals that are healthy but save money on expensive produce. 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 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.