Coping with Capitalism & Unemployment
There’s no way around it, as of this very moment, we live in a capitalistic, profit-first society. This often manifests as flamboyant riches for some, food insecurity for others; loyalty to brand for some, accountability to neighbor for others; ample access to resources for some and clawing at opportunities for most. I have experienced unemployment and I’ve had to watch loved ones suffer under its psychological terror as well.
While a decent amount of Americans report being optimistic about the job market, many people are deeply affected. What’s more, unemployment causes a substantial drop in life satisfaction that can persist for three years after the event. As of June 2018, unemployment rates increased for adult men, adult women, and Asians. The high jobless rate hasn’t changed for teenagers, Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics since the previous month. Navigating capitalism can be painful enough to make one’s stomach turn, let alone recovering from unemployment (regardless if you let them go or vice versa).
Here are some tips on how to cope when it feels like the metaphorical big bank is taking everything from your lil’ bank.
Give Yourself Time And Space To Process
Allow yourself that latitude to heal from the job. Although your natural response may be shock, anger, or fear, depending on your situation, try to defer judgement and practice being radically gentle with yourself. Write down your feelings, recount the experience- What did you gain? What did you contribute? And now, what will your response be? Research states that most folks can be placed into four categories:
- ‘the give-uppers’
- ‘the clenchers’
- ‘the refocusers’
- ‘the ambivalents’
Serious effects of unemployment were found among the give-uppers and the clenchers. The refocusers on the other hand, enjoyed their lives and had replaced the loss of work with other meaningful activities. If you’re like me, you may flow through more than one category in a week. The key here is to allow yourself to feel at first. Even if you have financial constraints that make it seem impossible to feel, you must remember your humanity during your process. By flowing through your emotional process, ideally you’d arrive at the ‘refocuser’ category which is optimal for preventing learned helplessness.
Establish A Plan Or Timeline
Whether during or after your process, it’s a good idea to come up with a plan of action. Some experts suggest applying to five jobs a day, while others recommend curating a list of prospects and applying in bulk once a week. This is a great time to re-evaluate your professional and financial goals. Connect with a mentor or friend to have a brainstorming session around your next steps. Taking those steps and holding yourself accountable can feed into your sense of empowerment. Doing what you can, while you can.
Research shows that people who are unemployed for longer periods of time, experience deeper feelings of helplessness and report increased frustration. Such results point to the need for positive self-appraisal, prestige, social contacts, new experiences and occupations, as well as the need for achievements. Whipping out a spreadsheet or calendar, while also developing S.M.A.R.T. goals for yourself, can help the part of your brain that thrives off positive, forward-moving action.
Organize Psychological Support
First off, remember to get out of bed, lather up with your favorite shower gel, and make an effort to move your body. Research has highlighted that many who are unemployed spend their time watching TV at home throughout the day; others meandered from one shop to another without buying anything. This behavior is easy to slip into, but is out of sync with the behavior indicative of positive mental health. Some healthier alternatives are, meeting up with friends, participating in walking tours, visiting a museum on free day, and catching a $6 matinee- even if you don’t feel like it, even if you feel unworthy. Again, now is the time to remember you are human.
Why? Because the data proof is in the puddin’! Data has shown that individuals with higher levels of self-esteem and social support were not only more likely to engage in problem-focused coping but were also more likely to be re-employed within three months. Finally, seeking a therapist can be momentum-changing. Seek out free or discounted service providers; they exist and they’re awesome!
Keep Learning New Skills
It is not just about being practical during this lull and forcing yourself to develop marketable skills. This is also a great time to conduct the unique, tender process of perceiving yourself beyond your work title or ability to constantly be on the go and produce. In a word, begin the process of accepting that you are not defined by your job. You may have spent seven years devoting yourself to a company as an accountant. Once the ball drops, you may not be strapped for money but you’re emotionally wrecked because you became so invested in your role that it is seemingly fused with your identity. Literally thinking of yourself as “Moriah, The Accomplished Accountant”. It may be healthier to get to a place where you see your job as just one aspect of your identity. Or even more distant, your job is the skillful way you decide to navigate capitalism.
By learning new skills, you are empowering yourself to grow gracefully with the employment shift. Devote some time to honing skills you thought were just hobbies or nice-to-haves, like knitting or public speaking. Who knows, if the spirit strikes, it could develop into a little side hustle. But that’s not the goal. Learning also reinforces the notion that you are a student of life. Humility is incredibly useful to the spirit, as it teaches us to be patient and compassionate with ourselves whenever we’re learning or feeling something new.
Also, good news: the world keeps changing—which means that new skills are constantly in demand and new opportunities to put them to use will present themselves. Look at where technology in your profession is going and find educational opportunities that help you learn what you will need to master what’s coming next. For instance, enroll in course at your local community college or online via sites like Muse. You can invest $40-$150 or enroll in courses for free99.
Keep kindling Your Motivation
The three major aspects of psychological health that are impacted by unemployment are autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Autonomy is typically lacking while unemployed because we feel we have no choice but to search for a job, thus isolating ourselves in controlled motivation. Relatedness may lack because we’re no longer a part of a group (i.e. happy hours, water cooler chats). Competence tends to lack the longer we search for a job because the belief of being able to gain a job shrivels over time. Therefore, be sure to process emotionally, develop a strategy, and learn something new so you don’t get swallowed up by shame and guilt that comes with never earning enough also known as capitalism.
Fight Back, Lil’ Bank
I know. Unemployment feels shitty and undeniably anxiety-provoking, but I urge you to seize this moment as an opportunity to look at your life differently. Make adjustments that’ll enrich who you are, sit with this experience, recall the free activities of old that brought you joy, and connect with people who bring you emotional security without shame. And perhaps, as stated by Dr. Robert Leahy, author of the highly recommended The Worry Cure, pursue things that you really enjoy and may prove fruitful down the line.