You can manage fiscal, psychological depression

Posted April 29, 2009, at 5:11 p.m.

“It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours.” So said U.S. President Harry Truman years ago.

No matter what the greater economy is doing, job loss sends the unemployed person into a fiscal depression, particularly if the jobless state lasts for any length of time. Economists say a fiscal depression occurs when there is a decline in economic output over four consecutive quarters. Most of us will find that job loss even for a few months will cause an irreversible decline in our fortunes that will bring us down for at least a year.

The trouble is, joblessness can also plummet a person into a mental and physical depression, too. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines psychological depression as “a state of extreme dejection … a mood of hopelessness and feelings of inadequacy, often accompanied by physical symptoms.” Anyone who has been jobless will tell you sleeplessness, a racing heart, digestive uneasiness, mercurial emotions and more are among those “physical symptoms.”

For far too many, job loss presents the double whammy of financial and psychological depression. How can a person get a handle on the sinking emotions that arrive along with unemployment?

According to Ellen Gottlieb of Human Resources Partners of Scarborough, who specializes in helping the jobless to cope practically and emotionally with unemployment, “The jobless go through a process that is similar to the stages of grief associated with death and dying. That’s because a job is fundamental; it’s a part of who we are,” Gottlieb said. “There is a tremendous sense of loss when we lose a job.”

According to Gottlieb, the stages of grief include denial, resistance, exploration and reconnection. At first, it is typical to be shocked, to deny the reality of the situation. Next, it is common to experience resistance as the reality sinks in. During this stage, resistance may manifest itself in the form of anger, anxiety and depression.

Only when one begins to explore new possibilities, is it possible to move on to reconnect with one’s sense of well-being and a new job. But many find it hard to exit the resistant stage.

To help visualize a method of moving on, Gottlieb uses a triangle-shaped chart to spell out the connections between thoughts, feelings and behavior. Noting that “thoughts drive feelings,” Gottlieb said it is typically hard for the unemployed to control their worrisome thoughts about finances and unfairness and other concerns. Naturally, these thoughts lead to negative feelings.

“You can’t control your thoughts, and you can’t control your feelings,” Gottlieb said, “But you can control your behavior.” If one acts as if things are positive, “the result is self-enhancing,” she said.

In a general sense, those who can say “I feel upset but I will not behave that way,” have a better chance of finding some enjoyment in living through the difficult phase of joblessness. They connect better with friends and family, and feel better about themselves as a result. They also will find it easier to connect with people who may help them to network in their job search.

Beyond that, controlling one’s behavior is hugely important in the interview situation. “If you have not moved on from your anger and anxiety, it will show, and you will lessen your chance of being hired,” Gottlieb advised. “No one wants to hire an angry employee. But if you have a handle on your behavior, you increase the likelihood that you will be chosen for a job.” Of course, when you finally secure that job, you’ve also gotten a handle on your fiscal depression, too.

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