Easing Family Stress During a Job Search
If you have any employment or job search questions, please call Colleen at 314-539-5481 for assistance in connecting with a career center in the St. Louis Metropolitan area.
If you've been out of work for any period of time, it comes as no surprise to you that losing a job ranks up there with death, divorce, and being jailed in its effects on your mind and body. Individuals and families alike will experience the stresses associated with job loss and the subsequent search for a new job. Here are eight reasons why the stress of job loss affects families. Later in this podcast, I'll give you nine ways to help you and your family handle the loss more effectively.
- Stress is a function of change. Making any change in your life requires that you make adjustments to how you think and act. Rapid, unexpected change is more stressful than changes that come gradually or can be anticipated.
- Stress is felt both physically and psychologically. Some symptoms of stress might include:
b. Lack of motivation
c. Digestive upsets
d. Lack of sexual interest or response
e. Moodiness or depression
f. A short attention span
g. A short temper
h. Obsessive thoughts and feelings of guilt
i. Unusual or exaggerated fears
j. Headaches, backaches, or other physical symptoms
It's important to take these symptoms seriously, since ignoring them can lead to more severe problems. Your body and mind are a set of interacting systems that can break down if the stress isn't dealt with in a timely manner.
- Families experience stress in different ways. Stress may show up as increased bickering, giving others the "silent treatment," or an aggravation of minor problems that may have existed before.
Stress in children is often disguised. Young children might show abrupt changes in behavior at home or in school. They might suddenly develop discipline or performance problems. When children cling to you or return to comfort objects (such as blankets or teddy bears) that were previously discarded, or if their behavior becomes excessively ritualized, you should search for the causes of stress and reduce them quickly.
- One of the most common responses to job loss is grief. Any loss triggers a normal grief response. Job loss can cause as much grief as death or divorce, but terminated employees often ignore their feelings or try to keep a "stiff upper lip." Believing that they should handle it "like a man" keeps them in denial and prevents them from moving through the normal stages of the grief process.
- Spouses often feel angry with the former employer, but blame their mates. A job-hunting mate is often the handiest target for displaced anger at an employer, and is often blamed for the job loss. Tell-tale remarks often start with, "Why did you . . ." or "Why didn't you . . ." or "If only you had . . ."
Sole breadwinners who lose their jobs are sometimes accused of breaching an implicit marriage contract, which calls for them to be the primary wage earner and source of support for the family. In dual-career families, job seekers may be blamed for not carrying their fair share of the load, leading to resentments about the loss of family perks, such as dinners out, vacations, etc.
- Fear of the consequences of income loss often causes irrational thinking. Fear and anxiety are energy-sapping feelings. Rather than drive productive behavior, they cause us to "vibrate" ineffectively. Irrational accusations, such as, "You always . . ." "You never . . ." are typical responses to this kind of fear.
- Both the job seeker and the family experience shame. This can lead to keeping the job loss a secret from neighbors and friends, and in some cases, children and relatives. Ironically, they're the likeliest sources of emotional support and potential leads for job hunters.
Shame also keeps couples from talking to each other about the job search, since discussing the search means acknowledging the loss repeatedly. Unaccustomed feelings of shame are confusing and embarrassing. If left unaddressed, they can lead to more serious marital problems.
- Anxiety is probably the strongest feeling spouses experience, mainly because of the ambiguity of their situation. Job seekers know how the search is going, but spouses have to wait for reports, which may be delayed or nonexistent. The lack of information leads to increased anxiety, and eventually to nagging for information, suffering in silence, or attempting to take control of the job search. Job hunters will sense their spouse's lack of confidence and feel resentful or lose even more self-esteem.
What follows is a recipe for restoring confidence in the family, while providing mutual support. These suggestions can improve family communication, reduce negative feelings, and relieve the stress associated with a job search.
- Nothing reduces tension like acknowledging the feelings. Talk to members of your family, especially your spouse, about how you feel. Recognize that your feelings are normal, and that talking about them doesn't make them worse - in fact the reverse is true.
- Acknowledge the grief process. Realize that grief is a process with a beginning, middle, and end. If you don't try to interfere, grief will run its course, leading to a feeling of acceptance and the ability to move ahead with life. Don't try to stifle or deny your feelings - that only delays working them through.
- When you share your feelings, try to distinguish carefully between what you think and how you feel. Thoughts are your judgments and conclusions, while feelings are your internal responses to these thoughts and conclusions.
- Monitor and control displaced anger. Pent-up anger is caused by an inability to express feelings toward your former employer. Resist the temptation to call your old boss, since you don't want to jeopardize future employment references, severance pay, health insurance, or outplacement assistance. The energy generated by your feelings is best discharged by positive behavior leading to a new job.
- Create and nurture a support system both within and outside your family. Talk to friends and relatives about what you're experiencing. Allow them to offer emotional and moral support. Give them the opportunity to provide potential job leads, but don't hold it against them if they can't. Allow children to contribute to solving family problems, too. This will help them avoid excessive anxiety and the consequent misbehavior associated with a lack of information and a feeling of powerlessness.
- Reduce the potential for depression by taking control of your life wherever possible. Take a financial inventory to determine how long you can survive with reduced income. Decide on a standard of living you're comfortable with, beginning with a clear picture of your fixed expenses. Do you know how much money you need to make ends meet? Make rational estimates about the length of time you'll need to find a job and whether you'll have to tap IRAs, pensions, or other personal resources. Develop a realistic budget that includes all necessities and even some luxuries. By budgeting time and money for some "extras," you family won't feel so deprived. Avoid the temptation to live on your credit cards - that can lead to worse problems in the future.
- Learn to recognize and avoid communication roadblocks. Open communication is an important key to reducing anxiety. Avoid the "all or nothing" thinking that goes with anxiety and depression. Create a structure for talking with your family. Schedule discussions with your spouse and children so you won't forget to talk about important issues.
- Recognize that a successful job search is a full time job. Don't let anyone in your family think that you're available for child care, shopping, or errands because, after all, you're not going to work and have lots of free time.
- Finally, remember that there are no perfect solutions, and one size does not fit all. No decision is always right. Even decisions that once seemed logical may now seem to be mistakes. Yet, it doesn't help to blame yourself or your spouse. Remind yourself that you tried your best and have learned from your experiences, just like you'll learn from this one.