Are you feeling stressed because you’re unemployed? If so you’re not alone. Our downward economy has caused many employers to lay off workers and has increased the competition for jobs. Despite the economic conditions you can still reduce your stress, which in return can help you better plan your goals for getting the job you want. To help learn what type of impact unemployment stress can have on you and what you can do to reduce unemployment stress, I have interviewed psychotherapist Martha Carr, Psy.D. LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Psychoanalyst in Toluca Lake, California. In addition to my clinical practice where I see adult individuals, couples and families, I am a faculty member of the Newport Psychoanalytic Institute in Pasadena, California and an adjunct faculty member at California State University, Northridge where I teach courses on Couples Counseling and Fieldwork Practicum in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling graduate MFT program.”
What types of thoughts induce stress and anxiety for someone who is unemployed?
“As a psychotherapist I see many distressed individuals and couples. Recently I have had an influx of couples in which one of the partners has been unemployed for a significant amount of time ‘” from six months to two or more years. As stressful as it is for the unemployed person, the impact experienced by the partner is also significant. The longer the unemployment, the higher the stress level in the couple, often resulting in increased conflict. In cases where a couple presents for counseling instead of an individual, I have to look at and work with the impact of unemployment on the marital dyad. Often individual therapy for the unemployed person is recommended to help them work through feelings of frustration, helplessness, low self-esteem and confusion about what to do next.”
What type of impact does unemployment have on a person’s overall well being?
“The people that I am working with are generally highly skilled and creative people who have not only been working most of their lives, but who have committed many years to a career. In fact, it is often their health insurance, now in Cobra from their last employment, which is providing coverage for therapy. I spend a fair amount of time asking my clients to express their thoughts and feelings about their situation and have found that there are some consistent themes that present themselves in these circumstances. The most common experiences are fear, loss of self-esteem and motivation. Ironically, now that the person has lots of time to develop personal interests, add new skills, exercise, or pursue some enrichment, what often occurs instead is lethargy leading to a lack of self-care. Basically, people get depressed.”
“Depression is a stress response in the body. It is not unusual to hear something like: “my husband stays in the house playing video games all day or sits in front of the TV. I wish he’d go out, take a walk, go to the gym, and get together with friends. Anything!” The more the unemployed person is perceived as passive toward his or her situation, the more stressed and angry (even resentful) the partner becomes (even while consciously empathizing with the other’s dilemma!) This of course increases the fear in the unemployed person that the relationship will soon be lost too.”
“Sometimes unconscious beliefs will surface under the stress of the situation.”
“One man I recently worked with who had been unemployed for eighteen months expressed a feeling of anger at the entire field that had previously supported him. He thought that after the many years he had put into it that someone should offer him a job. This thought that others should “take care of him” created a real sense of betrayal about his chosen industry as a whole. His wife wanted him to develop other options and was pushing for him to either go back to school and change paths or just take any kind of job rather than wait for his luck to change. She saw it as a back-up plan but to him it represented giving up, failure, which he understandably had difficulty accepting. Even though he was checking daily online for opportunities, he was paralyzed. The hard part is that identity is often intertwined with occupation and to give up doing something, especially something that has been creatively or personally satisfying, is as objectionable to the soul as losing a limb is to the body!”
“People have various adaptive capacities to situations that are out of their control. Some are more flexible than others, and believe that they have the capacity to impact their world. This self-perception is often based on the level of positive secure attachment relationships in childhood, innate personality traits, life-experience and current support. The most secure people have thoughts that are optimistic and adaptive. If one believes that there are options and is willing to take on the challenge of creating and finding something new, one will find the motivation to pursue it. It’s not that there won’t be disappointment, upset or anger, but there will be less stress overall as the person feels and thinks they can do something about their situation. If one has rigid and negative beliefs about oneself and the other ‘” “nothing I do will make a difference” the tendency to give up and feel victimized it high. Having relationships that are supportive, loving and stable can also help reduce stress as they provide a person with a sense of security about the future.”
How do you help a client who is unemployed and stressed?
“I help people express their thoughts and feelings and examine irrational as well as rational beliefs. Normalizing the situation given our economy is often helpful ‘” knowing one is not alone makes it easier and less personal.”
“Sometimes it is an opportunity to explore deeper issues that are getting stirred up.”
“One unemployed woman I saw had terrible childhood memories of repeated periods of unemployment that her father went through that exacerbated his alcoholism. It was important to separate her experience from what happened to her as a child.”
“Stress is something held in the body so it is vital to stay healthy and exercise. This reduces tension and promotes the creation of seratonin and endorphins in the bloodstream, which counteract depression. Think outside the box! Creating and maintaining relationships is key in finding opportunity.”
“Often people who are unemployed are afraid to seek counseling or are ashamed of their situation thinking that it is their fault and will isolate. Depression is a serious condition that can take months to resolve so be aware of the signs before they worsen. Persistent sadness, irritability, isolating, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping or conversely, significantly oversleeping, increasing use of alcohol etc. are all warning signs that should be taken seriously.”
“If you need help get it. There are lots of good counseling centers where counseling is available at an extremely low fee, even free. Speak to clergy. The best thing to do is to seek connections with friends and loved ones who can offset any negative self-image that may be there. Also ‘” those connections often lead to job opportunities. It is also a good time to re-evaluate your life. If a career change is necessary it might be a time to look into the thing you have wanted to do all your life but never had the opportunity to pursue.”
What last advice would you like to leave for someone who is unemployed?
“The take-home message is stay positive and don’t give up. Things will change. My favorite line is one that a cheerful gentleman told me one day during an interesting conversation with him in the market. Curious about his profession I asked what he did for a living. “I’m a philosopher,” he said. When he saw the quizzical look on my face he clarified ‘That’s what I am when I am between jobs.'”
Thank you Martha for the interview on unemployment stress. If you would like to contact Martha Carr you can reach her at (818) 559-7261 or email@example.com You can also find more information about Dr. Martha Carr at www.mcarrmft.com.
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