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How to Cope with Unemployment Stress

Losing a job is a shock, and can be one of the most traumatic moments in anyone's life. We are taught to see our job as a central part of who we are and what makes as valuable, and when that's taken away, it puts us under a huge amount of pressure. Managing that stress is a key part of getting back on our feet and back to productive work.

The first thing to remember if you lose a job is that you're not alone. The unemployment rate is falling, but there are still around 5.98 million people who are unemployed as of November 2018.[1] Most of them are unemployed because of factors beyond their control. All of them are wondering how they will pay bills, buy groceries, afford health care, and get back to work. Coping with the stress of unemployment requires effort, but with the right strategies in place, you can get through this period in your life with minimal scarring and come out on the other side stronger and more prepared for any future upsets in your career.

Redo Your Budget
Unexpected unemployment is a curve ball you never saw coming, and the biggest disruption is to your finances. Now is the time to take a close look at your finances and your budget, paying particular attention to the amount of cash you have in reserve to handle your bills in the immediate future. Experts recommend having enough savings to keep you afloat for six months, but most Americans don't have that. If you don't have an emergency fund, you may have other items that can be converted into cash may be the answer to handling expenses until you find a job. If you have a 401(k) or another retirement plan you can cash into, it is worth consideration, though you will have to remember that you are essentially borrowing from yourself, and you will have to rebuild those funds. Look at your expenses each month, and decide where you can cut back. Cutting your budget to the bare minimum won't raise your income, but at least you'll know that you're using your resources as efficiently as possible.

Apply for Assistance
Nobody likes asking for help for help, especially when we've always valued self-reliance, but there are times when it's the only sensible thing to do. Unemployment benefits can help you stay afloat during your job search for a specific period if you are unemployed through no fault of your own. You may qualify for monetary assistance, worker's compensation, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Continuation of Health Coverage, or COBRA. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for food stamp benefits through the USDA. Check your local department of social insurance or health and human services to determine which programs eligibility standards you meet.

Start the Job Search
Begin looking for new work immediately. Losing a job hits hard, and it's easy to fall into the trap of doing nothing. The best medicine is to take immediate positive action and throw yourself back into the fray as soon as possible. Register with your state's employment services division, and visit online job boards to find opportunities that interest you. Brush up your resume, adding your most recent job activities and highlighting any new experience and skills you have to offer. Look for openings, send out resumes, talk to friends, past associates, anyone who might know of an opening. You may not get immediate results, but you're doing something to help yourself.

Consider Freelancing or Work-From-Home Jobs
Do you have a skill that translates over to the freelance niche? Graphic designers, web developers, marketers, writers, editors, and others often use their time among the unemployed to find ways to branch out into freelance work. Build a profile on a site such as Upwork.com and start looking for clients. Working from home as a freelancer has its definite advantages, and you may find that you don't miss your old job at all. Other work-from-home opportunities may also interest you, such as working in a virtual call center, providing support through chat, or even manning a help desk and doling out tech advice. Tutoring, pet walking and sitting, renting out a spare room through Air BnB, providing Uber or Lyft rides all provide activities that can keep you busy and productive and make a real contribution to your finances while you seek out work in a field that you enjoy. Think outside the box when it comes to these types of jobs; maybe the job is not part of your career plan, but it can fill a financial void until better times arrive.

Spend Your Time Constructively
A job search can take time, but at some point, you will find yourself waiting for responses with little else to do. Making your unemployment "count" is a good way to stay positive and beat the stress that comes with not having a job. Volunteering is a good way to build job experience and fill in any gaps that unemployment creates on your resume. Seek out opportunities that interest you, and put your heart into your efforts to take your mind away from your unemployment and the stress it causes. Volunteering isn't just about helping others, either. You're filling in what would otherwise be a blank spot in your resume while building critically important skills, relationships, and networks that often lead to permanent employment.

Expand Your Skill Set
While you're looking for your next opportunity, you may be able to use the time to good advantage by expanding your skill set, which makes you more marketable to potential employers. Whether it is just one class or workshop or you want to delve back into college with full force, now is a good time to think about additional training to add to your CV. You may want to finish a degree that you started years ago, or break into a new field with more opportunities. There may be grant or scholarship programs that can help you pay for training in a new field or expand your skills in your existing profession. Visit your local college or university to find out what opportunities are available to you.

Network
Networking is also a good way to spend any free time you have during your unemployment. Sites such as LinkedIn.com offer ways to connect with people in your niche, both locally and elsewhere. Building a solid network of contacts may be the key to landing the new job that you need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps.

Keep Positive
Whatever you do to reign in the stress when unemployment comes calling, keeping positive is important. Continue to work towards a positive outcome, overcome negative thinking, and realize that "this too shall pass." Unemployment is a transition period in your life, and like all transitions, with effort and patience, you can find something positive on the other end.

Notes
1. "United States Unemployment Rate" . TradingEconomics.com