I am someone who has worked in many jobs since I was a teenager. Some of my occupational transitions stemmed from personal choice. Other times they were driven by funding (not always a guarantee in the nonprofit sector). Sometimes it was due to organizational changes or economic issues beyond my control. One responsibility that I have had throughout all of these jobs has been working with people to manage stress.
In my previous job as a career services specialist, I worked with people who were enduring long-term stress. I worked for a Massachusetts One-Stop Career Center (now known as an American Job Center). Many of them were involuntarily unemployed or underemployed, and their sudden status change caused them tremendous emotional and financial stress. After several weeks or months, some job seekers began to lose hope that things would get better. They had heard all the well-meaning platitudes from friends and family, and they couldn’t hear any more of them. In cases like those, I found the following approaches to help them manage long-term stress.
First, feel without judging your feelings. This is the foundation for all following steps. When bad times come, you may feel the need to show that you’re mentally strong and resilient. These are good qualities to strive for. However, if you in fact are feeling resentful or fearful of how a particular event has impacted or might impact you in the future, let yourself acknowledge those feelings first. You will not be able to cope with your emotions if you have not identified what exactly they are.
Second, reflect on your feelings with a candid attitude. Once you have identified your different emotions, be honest with yourself as to why you feel this way. In both my personal and professional life, I’ve come across job seekers who essentially said, “On one hand, I am happy my last employer laid me off because it wasn’t the right environment for me anyway. At the same time, I’m mad that I wasn’t able to leave on my own terms. On top of that, I’m just stressed about how this layoff will impact my financial stability.” Reflection allows you to analyze both the root causes of your stress, and it sets the foundation for you to identify potential solutions for mitigating–if not actually overcoming–your current stressors.
Third, proactively seek inspiration for personal growth. This inspiration may come in many forms. It may include a chat from an encouraging friend, a self-help book, a professional counselor that specializes in your issues, a faith-based practice, a healthier diet, a new exercise routine, or anything else that promotes well-being as you seek clarity and stability in your life. If you are managing long-term stress, you likely are experiencing great disappointments. That’s even more reason to seek positive inspiration to counteract the negative weight of those disappointments.
Fourth, look forward to at least one good thing each day. One thing may not solve all of your problems, but it could make each day slightly more tolerable as you try to improve your situation. If it feels like you can’t name one major thing, start small. Look forward to the simple things like a movie on Netflix, dessert at that bakery you’ve been meaning to try, or hanging out with a loved one you haven’t seen in a long time. A couple years ago, I went through my own unemployment phase. When I reflect on an activity that made each day more bearable, it surprisingly was watching basketball games at a sports bar. I hadn’t watched a full game in years, and becoming a regular at my local bar gave me something to look forward to and an unexpected sense of community with bartenders and other people sitting near me. Who would’ve thought a shared dislike of the Miami Heat could be so bonding?
Fifth, pay it forward. If you are managing long-term stress, it is likely that a few people have been helping you along the way. Earlier I mentioned that I used to work at a Massachusetts One-Stop Career Center. It is important to note that I started working there because I had already been using their services as a job seeker. The staff members had been so instrumental with providing me with good career counseling and job search workshops that I decided to pay forward the support they had given me. Given my professional background with education and career development, it was the perfect way to pay forward the services to other job seekers. That’s what worked for me, and it’s a matter of finding out how you could use your unique skills and experience to pay forward some good to another person.
Dealing with long-term stress is a complex process. These are simply a few next steps for dealing with it. What would you add to the list?