Disclaimer: This piece deals heavily with the topic of depression. Please only continue to read if you feel it is healthy for you to do so.
I can’t say I’m the type of person who enjoys being reduced to a statistic. But currently, I’m defined by two of them. I’m the one in four people in the UK who experience a mental health problem each year, and I’m one of the 1.29 million people in Britain who are currently unemployed. And in the US, those figures are roughly the same: 26% of people in the US will experience a mental health issue, and roughly 5.79 million are unemployed.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this “unemployed and depressed” boat since I moved to London two and a half years ago (a worse boat name than Boaty McBoatface). I was diagnosed with depression around age 17, and I’m now 26. Money is also a huge source of anxiety for me. Seeing your bank account dwindle while the generic rejection emails from company after company continue to land in your inbox is not a great feeling. If you know unemployment is coming, start saving. Even if you don’t know it’s coming, start saving. Beyond having your financial ducks in a row, below are some tips, tricks and hints about how I personally navigate unemployment with depression.
Sort out your wants versus your needs.
It’s time to sacrifice things that aren’t basic necessities. Every month, I physically handwrite a budget, and it helps me see what items I spend money on that are “needs” versus “wants.” My gym membership? A want. I canceled it because I know the money I spend on that can get me around three weeks’ worth of groceries. Yes, it can be a bit of a bummer, but it’s not forever. Stringent budgeting at such a chaotic time gives me a sense of control, which is something that both unemployment and depression make me feel like I’m lacking.
Socializing? That’s a need. I wouldn’t have been able to get through the past month without the support of some wonderful friends. Instead of going out, we stayed in and had Mary Kate & Ashley movie marathons (highly recommend). Reach out to your friends right now, even if it’s for a virtual hangout. People will understand, people will help you, people will support you. This time can call for a lot of big sacrifices, but you don’t have to sacrifice your social life along with it. Your friends love you. Let them love you, whichever way they know how to show it.
Update your resume.
If you’re anything like me, this is something you only do when you’re actively seeking a new job. Although it can seem to be a bit daunting, it’s a great way to boost your mood and your ego, looking at everything you’ve achieved. A lot of websites like TopCV and TopResume offer free critiques, and there are boundless articles on great ways to polish it up. Use the job description of the role you’re applying for to guide you – incorporate the keywords and skills mentioned throughout.
If you’re worried it’s looking a little empty, a good way to keep your mind engaged while adding to your resume is to take an online course. Places like LinkedIn Learning and FutureLearn offer great ones.
Volunteering is great for both your mind and your resume. I recently donated blood, and not only was it good to do something to help others, but it was also good to get out of the house and chat with new people. And I got free snacks and three stickers!
Also, do you have any skills that can help you earn a little extra cash while you’re hunting for jobs? Some freelance writing, small children you can babysit, dogs you can walk, extra clothes you can sell on Depop or eBay? It may only be a small influx, but money is money. Also, getting out of the house and away from all those job websites is a good reprieve for your brain.
Don’t let rejection get you down.
Something I’ve noticed about my depression is that I’m prone to spiraling and catastrophic thinking. Add unemployment to the mix, and both of those habits become worse. When you keep applying for jobs and either keep getting rejected or worse, don’t hear back at all, it’s so easy to adopt the “woe is me” headspace.
But sometimes, you’ve just got to acknowledge that the situation sucks, that you may never know why you were rejected, and you’ve got to brush yourself off and pick yourself up. And just keep applying. The more you apply for, the more likely you are to get a job.
Seek professional help.
There’s always a helping hand out there, waiting for someone to reach out and grasp it. Start reaching out to recruiters and temp agencies. Recruiters are paid to fill jobs, and temp agencies are paid to provide people to cover reception, admin or events roles for a day, a week, or a month.
Don’t be ashamed to admit that you’re struggling and that you need help with your mental health. Your local area may offer free online counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy, and there are free helplines that you can call.
Follow a routine.
Depression doesn’t follow a routine, but you can. Not only do our bodies tend to function better when our eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns are set to a regular schedule, but our minds also benefit from routines.
It can be especially hard to do this right now, but try to set a routine just like you would if you had a job. Wake up to bed with an alarm set every day. Stretch. Make your bed, and don’t get back in it. Have a shower. Get dressed. Do work at a desk or table – avoid the couch! Eat lunch at regular times. Get a little exercise in, whether it’s a home workout or a walk outside. Stop working just how you would at the end of a regular workday. Read those books you keep buying but never read. Journal. Meditate. Get a full night’s sleep.
I find that writing a to-do list of tasks helps, so I can have that feeling of accomplishment when I cross off a task. This is even true for basic things like “shower”, “sweep floor”, or “do laundry”. The feeling I get from accomplishing small tasks makes it easier for me to tackle more daunting ones.
Eat, sleep, exercise, repeat.
It’s important to eat healthy, but it can be exhausting to cook something healthy every day. So I batch cook. Every Sunday, I’ll make five days worth of food while singing (off-key) to a playlist full of guaranteed bops. Some of my favorite recipes include Quinoa and Black Bean Stuffed Peppers, Slow Cooked Black Bean and Lentil Chilli, Chickpea and Spinach Stuffed Sweet Potato, Slow Cooked Lentil Spinach Soup and Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers. The act of cooking and baking can also leave you feeling relaxed and happier!
A good night’s sleep is also important when you’re depressed. It can be super tempting to stay up late and sleep in when no one is counting on you to be in at a certain time. But you’re not a little kid excited at the chance to stay up past your bedtime, you’re an adult who’s only screwing themselves over in the end.
I’ve found that a weighted blanket has changed my sleep immensely. I feel like a giant swaddled baby when I’m underneath it. Research, like this 2015 study, has found that adults with insomnia had increased sleep time as well as a calmer night’s sleep when using the blanket. Apps like Headspace or Calm can help with sleep meditations and music.
And as my mom constantly reminds me on Facebook messenger, text, and Facetime, exercise is so beneficial for my mental health and serves as a great distraction from the whole not-having-a-job-to-go-to thing. I’m not a fan of home routines, so I try to get outside and go for a walk. I get to go out in the cold, wintery, London sunshine, and also get the chance to pet lots of dogs. Win win win, honestly.
Remember, this isn’t forever. I won’t always be defined by these two statistics. Neither will you.
Kate Evans is a freelance writer and rosé aunt who will only consider her $25,000 journalism degree a success if she interviews Harry Styles.
Image via Pexels