Dealing with stress during unemployment

Why talk about stress

Almost everyone who’s unemployed will experience stress to some degree. It may manifest as trouble sleeping, a lack of appetite, headaches and persistent feelings of not being able to cope – or in a range of different ways. Each person is different.

For some people, stress will be a short-term condition directly related to their situation, while for others stress may become more serious and could lead to anxiety or depression. It is important to recognise that stress is normal during unemployment and that there are steps you can take to reduce the impact of stress on your life.

What does stress look like

The signs and symptoms of stress are quite broad and are similar to the symptoms of a number of more serious mental health disorders. Always feeling tired, even after sufficient sleep, and an inability to concentrate are two of the most common symptoms of stress. Other signs may include:

  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Inability to relax
  • Feelings of depression or unhappiness
  • Focusing on the negative
  • Racing thoughts
  • More frequent minor illnesses, such as colds and flu, and more frequent episodes for sufferers of chronic illnesses, such as asthma
  • Loss of libido
  • Chest pain and palpitations
  • Unexplained cramps, aches and pains
  • More regular headaches and migraines
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Nervous habits or tics, such as nail biting

The most important thing to remember, however, is that regardless of your ‘symptoms’, if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed you should consider seeking support.

Tips for combatting stress during unemployment

There is no ‘one size fits all’ method for combatting stress as everyone has different stressors and respond differently to techniques to help them to relax. It’s important to try and find, usually through trial and error, what works best for you. Here are some suggestions:

  • Seek support by talking to a counsellor.
  • Talk to a family member or close friend about how you’re feeling – it’s more difficult to face things alone. It can be useful to spend some time reflecting on the positive things in your life, to put your stressors in perspective, and loved ones can really support you in doing this.
  • Try and maintain some kind of daily routine, e.g. get up at a regular time and plan to do things which make you feel useful and give you a sense of achievement. Deliberately set aside time for something that you enjoy every day.
  • Try to be as proactive as possible in dealing with things that are identified causes of stress, i.e. have a plan to deal with financial worries, such as a budget. If you know that particular, unavoidable situations make you feel stressed, spend some time thinking of one or two strategies for minimizing the stress attached to each situation. Just by taking positive steps towards regaining control, you should start to feel better. At the same time it’s important to try to avoid worrying about things outside of your control.
  • Try to avoid unhealthy ways of coping with stress such as smoking, drinking excessively, sleeping too much, avoiding loved ones or taking your stress out on them.
  • Maintain good general health by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and getting enough sleep. Consider reducing or cutting out caffeine and excess sugar from your diet as their temporary ‘highs’ can leave you feeling low and de-energised.
  • Find a physical activity, such as walking, swimming or cycling, which suits you, and try to set aside a little time for it each day. Participating in regular exercise helps give a sense of achievement, improves physical well-being and can also be a good way of dispersing stress from frustrating social interactions and disputes.
  • Make an effort to organise fun activities with friends and family – ideas for cheap or low cost activities can be found online or by talking with friends.
  • Feeling rushed or hurried will aggravate feelings of stress, so make sure that you leave plenty of time to get to appointments, especially interviews, which are likely to be particularly stressful without added anxieties about running late.

Getting further support

A level of stress is to be expected during periods of unemployment and, in many cases, individuals will be able to manage their feelings of stress using simple coping strategies like those described and, perhaps, by talking to family members, friends or a counselor. If you are worried that feelings of stress are significantly impacting on your ability to manage in daily life, this may be symptomatic of severe stress, depression or anxiety. You can read more about this through a number of specialist websites such as beyondblue and the Black Dog Institute.


Everyone experiences stress now and then.

Stress is common when you are looking for a job.

If it’s causing you problems, think about getting help.

There are many signs of stress and two of the most common are:

  • not being able to concentrate.
  • always feeling tired, even when you’ve had plenty of sleep.

While stress during unemployment is normal it can make it harder to look for a job. Ways to manage stress include:

  • making lifestyle changes that improve your overall well-being.
  • developing specific ways to cope with stressful situations.

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