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Harness the Power of Positive Thinking

How to Cope With the Emotional Distress of Unemployment

Individuals who are unemployed for long periods have a higher chance of developing depression and anxiety disorder, says counsellor Mr John Shepherd Lim.

When Ryan (not his real name) was retrenched for failing to meet his KPIs, he took it calmly as he thought he could find another job. 

However, his job search was met with one rejection after another.

After seven months of job hunting, Ryan started withdrawing from his friends. Every time he met up with them, he felt inferior as he perceived them as high-fliers.

Ryan also experienced physical changes — he started sleeping much more than usual and his appetite was poor. Most days, he felt sad. 

With his physical condition deteriorating, he was unable to perform well in job interviews. As he met with rejection after rejection, his morale dipped further.

According to Mr John Shepherd Lim, the Chief Wellbeing Officer at Singapore Counselling Centre, Ryan was displaying symptoms of depression. 

The emotional impact of unemployment 

Ryan’s situation is not unusual as many individuals are suffering from the emotional toll of losing their jobs during the pandemic. 

At the Singapore Counselling Centre the number of people seeking help since April more than doubled, as compared to the year before.

Mr Lim shared that some of the common issues that individuals faced include low self-esteem, work stress, relationship issues and addictions, which are exacerbated by the reduced job security and increased uncertainty due to the pandemic.

He noted that research also showed that individuals experiencing long-term unemployment are twice more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders. They are also 1.6 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Explaining the situation, Mr Lim said: “Unemployment brings a series of losses and challenges in terms of finances, social relationships, and one’s sense of identity and worth.” 

Firstly, the lack of income means the unemployed individual’s ability to afford basic needs may be affected. This is even worse if the individual needs to provide for his or her children and dependents.

Secondly, unemployed individuals often feel lonely since they are unable to socialise with their loved ones who are working. During this period, they may fall into a vicious cycle of maladaptive thoughts which are self-defeating and self-loathing.

“The experience of being unemployed for an extended period can cause individuals to feel disconnected from the larger society, resulting in feelings of purposelessness and isolation,” Mr Lim elaborated.

Thirdly, long term unemployment and retrenchment can have adverse impacts on individuals’ self-esteem and self-worth.

Mr Lim explained: “Facing rejections after job interviews time and again can be discouraging, and the process of going through repeated rounds of social evaluation — wanting to be well-liked and valued by interviewers — is a highly emotionally draining process.” Hence, individuals who have been unemployed in the long-term often perceive themselves as “useless” or “never enough”. 

Supporting unemployed individuals emotionally 

Mr Lim shares some tips that jobseekers can use to stay positive in the face of challenges.

1. Focus on controllable factors

Since external factors affecting the job market are beyond our control, focusing on them can make individuals feel helpless or fearful about the future. Focus your energy on things within your control. For example, make your job application stand out from the rest by quantifying and highlighting your achievements.

Learn to set SMART goals, which stand for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals. For instance, you can plan to sign up for an industry-specific course by the end of the month or submit your resumes for three job postings by the end of the week.

2. Reframe your mindset

As we attend interviews, there may be times when we do not hear from the organisation or we are told that our application is unsuccessful. These responses are disheartening and may cause the individual to feel like giving up. During these instances, it is important to reframe your perspective – what did you learn from the interview process? Did you do better at this interview than the previous one?

When you perceive interviews as a way of understanding yourself better, you can turn it into an opportunity for self-improvement. 

3. Stop and smell the roses

In between your job application and interviews, you may have pockets of free time. Use this time to pursue activities or hobbies that you are interested in. You can also spend quality time with your loved ones and maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising.

4. Seek professional help

As much as you try to stay positive and improve on your job search process, there may be blind spots that you miss. If you need career guidance, consider contacting a career coach. If you need emotional support, approach a professional counsellor.

The job search process is tedious, and fatigue may set in over time. If you feel that you are unable to cope, seek counselling early to prevent your issues from escalating.

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