Unemployed: The Emotional Toll


Let’s dive right in. You’re growing increasingly isolated from your friends, bills aren’t getting paid in full, savings are a thing of the past, skills are outdated, references are becoming harder to get, and you’re cutting both cable and the land line while eating a lot less healthy foods. Your psyche is becoming more fragile, your swagger like your clothes has long since stopped being trendy, your self-respect betrayed by a conscious decision to hide the weigh scale in the rear of the bathroom cabinet. Yes, there’s a lot of baggage you’re carrying around with this unemployment.

When it first happened, whether you walked away, were laid off or were terminated, you couldn’t have predicted you’d be out of work so long. “Not me”, you asserted with confidence; “I’ll be working soon. In fact, I’m going to actually give myself a little well-deserved break from work before rushing into my next job.” That ‘well-deserved break’ has long since gone from a break to what seems like a permanent reality. Things are different than they used to be when you’d be able to get yourself a job anytime you felt like it.

The television, once a source of entertainment and relaxation is now a diversion. It’s become a way to escape the prevailing thoughts of failure that are more and more prevalent, day in and day out. All the canned laugh tracks in those sitcoms that once got you laughing along now seem less funny as if they mock your idleness. Even the couch that you loved to lounge on no longer provides the comfort it once did, as you feel the guilt of inactivity every time you sit down for more than 20 minutes. So you stand and pace with nowhere to go, nothing to do – except feel so tired you just want to lay down on the couch again.

Being out of work does much more than drain the bank account. In fact, when you first find yourself out of work there are usually financial support systems already put in place to stave off financial hardship such as severance, employment insurance and if need be, government social assistance. The same is not necessarily true however for the emotional and mental strain of being unemployed. It’s this assault on your mental health that often goes unattended to, and failing to recognize the impact on your mental stability that arises from being out of work for a prolonged period of time, or failing to do anything about it can take an emotional toll with life-long implications.

There are for example some people who, having been out of work for an extended period, eventually regain employment and to all accounts have regained mastery over their mental health. The same individuals however may upon having those memories triggered, re-experience the stress without the loss of work. Being called into the office of the boss or an average performance review could set into motion some fears that the person thought they had left behind but in reality have just been dormant. Even hearing of others who are out of work; a relative of a co-worker who is struggling – any such reminder can bring the past crashing back to the present depending on how severe the person experienced their own unemployment.

On the positive side, we change jobs more frequently than in the lives of past generations. No longer is it common for people to retire from the job they started in their 20’s. So with more people experiencing the transition from one job to the next, the stigma of being out of work is not as rampant as it used to be. It’s still personal when it happens to you of course, and this doesn’t diminish or make light of your own experience, but unemployment is an experience that many around you have shared. Talking openly then about your unemployment will have more empathetic ears than in years past. In other words, if you talk about it, you’ll find understanding instead of condemnation.

Another good thing is that because more people are experiencing job loss, there are more supports in your community than in the past to help in the transition from your past job to your next job. There’s employment coaching, mental health counselling, financial planning, debt consolidation and restructuring and more services to help you deal proactively with your specific predicament. Look, you can’t be expected to be an expert in all areas of life. You’re good at what you do, and it stands to reason there are other people who are specialists in their work. Getting professional help to stabilize things at a time when you may not make the best decisions due to the strain you are under is a good move.

There is for many, a natural tendency to cocoon themselves from the world; hide unemployment and its impact from others, deal with it alone and then emerge transformed into something anew. This can work for some people. However, sharing what you’re experiencing could also lead to opportunities, job offers, leads, contacts; all of which could reduce your time out of work. This isn’t a time to let your pride rule the day. If a friend offers to pay for lunch, let them; they may not have any other way to be helpful. You’re going to get through this, and you’re not alone; help is out there.

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One thought on “Unemployed: The Emotional Toll

  1. The stigma of being unemployed is very slow to disappear. Employers still prefer to hire people who are already employed. If a person is unemployed for a long period of time it is still incredibly difficult to get a employer to even look at your resume let alone get an interview. You are right, people need to take advantage of the all the help they can get. The days of steady employment are over. The future holds unstable part time and casual work. People are going to be spending a major part of the their lives unemployed.

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