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Learning To Cope With The Stress & Anxiety of Unexpected Unemployment

Search AmericaBy Harvey M. Weiner, Managing Partner
Search America
An advice column for private club directors and managers previously published in Club Management Magazine under the pseudonym Career Doctor.

Dear Career Doctor:

I've heard you speak of your "guidelines for the newly unemployed." Please share them with us. Overwhelmed

Dear Overwhelmed:

Anyone has the ability to rebound from being fired if priorities are clear and these guidelines are followed:

Remain open to others: Seek support of friends, family, colleagues, and professionals in the search business. Don't cut yourself off. Others who have been in the same situation can understand and empathize. None of them may have the right advice, but a friendly ear can help you to verbalize your fears, better get in touch with your feelings, and cope with the reality of the situation. Avoid toxic people who know all the reasons why nothing will ever help.

Avoid self indulgent behavior: Confront don't seek escape. This isn't the time to go on an ice cream eating binge. Forget growing that beard you've always wanted. Don't blow your severance on a down payment toward a new Porsche. If you think this is tough, it's nothing compared to a slide into booze or drugs.

Be aware of your physical self: Being out of work can be harmful to your health. Loss of a job is one of the more stressful experiences in life. Not surprisingly, there appears to be a statistical correlation between job loss and admissions to mental institutions. Complaints of gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, liver problems (drinking/cirrhosis), headache, fatigue, irritability and colds increase. Sleeplessness weakens resistance increasing susceptibility to infection. The discipline to maintain sound mental and physical health habits is vital at this potentially fragile time.

Remain active: Just because you've always been a high achiever doesn't mean you won't quickly and easily slip into lethargy when you're suddenly unemployed. Inactivity can be habit forming. Assign yourself tasks and to-do lists for every day just the same as you'd do if you were going to the office. Set a schedule and objectives for yourself and stick to them. Commit to sending out so many resumes today, return so many phone calls this day, designing a follow-up file system another day, role-play interviews with your spouse or a friend another day, etc.

Remain productive and in control: Don't sit around waiting, worrying, and replaying your firing. Focus on the positive aspect of job change. This is your chance to go get what you want. It won't come get you.

Remember, you're not alone: Economic conditions have contributed to the firing and laying off of millions of Americans. At any given time, 10 million or so may be out of work. So, don't take it personally. Find others in the same boat and form a support group (perhaps through a church, synagogue, trade association). Share interview and resume preparation tips, job openings, contacts. Bolster each others' confidence and self-esteem. At a time when even celebrity corporate executives are out of work, it may seem stylish to be seen at the movies on Tuesday afternoons. Don't do it. Those other guys may have taken lucrative offers of early retirement or activated their golden parachute. You didn't.

Check your attitude often: A new president sometimes means new management. What's so unusual about a new broom sweeping the house clean? Maybe you should have seen it coming and been better prepared. But who can anticipate irrational behavior? Use this opportunity to learn a new skill, diversify into a new field, build your portfolio of experiences, live in a new community. This can be a rewarding adventure for the whole family.

Awaken at the same time every day, shave and dress appropriately. Let someone else do the "honey-dos" around the house. You have a job and that is to decide what you want to do now that you're all grown up. Once the new job's lined up, then take that much deserved vacation...not before.

Remember, you do have choices. You have the choice of seeing unemployment as either an opportunity or a threat. Choose to lose hope, and you might slip into despair. Choose to optimistically respond to the challenge, and you can grow from the experience feeling pride in the accomplishment.

Rebounding from the Shock of Unemployment

Expect an emotional roller coaster ride: Loss of a job can be as traumatic as the death of a loved one, particularly when you didn't see it coming. Even if you didn't like the job, at some level your expectations have not been met. Mourning the loss typically follows these phases:

Shock and disbelief
How could this happen?
Fear How will I pay the kid's tuition or the mortgage? Will I ever find another job?
Anger Gut-tensing
Outrage    Be careful how and where you ventilate.
Self-blame If only I had done this or that differently, perhaps I'd still be working.
Shame We authorize others to judge us. When we get fired, we not only disapprove of ourselves but believe that everyone must disapprove of us, too.
Despair That's when you don't get out of bed or answer the phone or get dressed all day. Psychologists suggest you may have to sink to this point before you accept the situation.
Action Pull yourself together. Get on with your life. Make the decision to make it happen.

Harvey Weiner, Managing Partner of Search America private club management search & consulting, is an agenda-setting, trusted advisor to club leadership since 1974. 800.977.1784 
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