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WORKING STRATEGIES, A COLUMN BY AMY LINDGREN

Emotional survival tips during layoff

Friday, April 5, 2013 - 12:01 am

Although the economy is improving, that doesn't mean that layoffs are a thing of the past. Last week's column reviewed tips for surviving financially if you are laid off. This week the spotlight turns to emotional survival, while next week's column will wrap up the series with tips on surviving professionally.

When it comes to emotional survival after a layoff, the main thing you need to know is this: Emotional distress can sneak up on you. You can go for weeks feeling as if you're handling things just fine, without even realizing that you've slowly been cutting yourself off from the world. One day you wake up – hours earlier or later than you normally would – feeling utterly despondent and rudderless.

You can recover from these emotional dives, but a better strategy is to stay off the roller coaster in the first place. Setting up some structures from the beginning of your transition will help you do that.

•Get a handle on your finances. Financial uncertainty creates an enormous strain on most laid-off workers. The earlier you gain control over your finances, the better the impact on your emotional health is likely to be. A good starting point is to know exactly how much you need each month and the date when you must be re-employed. Then start troubleshooting to reduce expenses while brainstorming ways to improve cash flow.

•Get a handle on your job search. Resolve to meet with a career counselor early in your transition to develop a strategy. Knowing the steps you'll be taking will reduce your worry and help you build confidence.

•Create a daily structure. As much as possible, mimic your normal work schedule, or that of your partner, to maintain harmony in your household. In most cases, this will mean getting up by six or seven Monday through Friday and creating blocks of time for job search and other activities during the workday. This needn't be rigid, but the more routine you build in, the easier your day will be.

•Watch your mental health. If you've had trouble in the past with depression, for example, take a proactive stance by talking with your doctor or therapist early in your transition. And pay special attention to keeping a balance between things that uplift you and those that bring you down.

•Watch your spiritual health. If you're religious, continue attending services and tell your religious leader your situation. If your spiritual practices are less formal, make an attempt now to put some structure around them, whether that means a few minutes a day of inspirational reading or a daily walk in the woods.

•Exercise daily. The links between physical and mental health are too numerous to count, so even if you have never been a daily exerciser, now is the time to start. Twenty minutes spent walking or biking around your neighborhood will have an enormous impact.

•Watch your diet. Food is a particularly challenging issue for unemployed workers, who are used to scheduling meals around their work hours. Whether your issue is eating too much, too little, or too erratically, addressing the issue will help ensure you feel and look your best throughout this transition.

•Socialize weekly. Don't let finances, or pride, be an excuse for staying home. There are plenty of activities that don't cost money, and your friends won't think less of you for being unemployed.

•Do something productive each day. A part-time job or volunteer gig can give structure and a sense of productivity to the day, while still leaving time for job search.

•Do something for yourself during this transition. Perhaps you've wanted to take a cooking class, paint the spare room or start a garden. Having something fun to occupy your mind can refresh you for job search and make the transition pass more easily.

•Learn not to procrastinate. Whatever job search steps you've assigned yourself each day, resolve to get up and do them first. You'll feel better about yourself and you'll greatly improve your chances of shortening the transition.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.