Category Archives: Coping

Unemployment month seven: end of my tether

The campaign aimed at destigmatising mental health issues spearheaded by the young royals, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, has received a lot of media attention lately. Prince Harry went public about his own struggles following the loss of his mother at a young age, making the point that bottling up negative emotions can have grave consequences to your psychological health.

This applies to the unemployed too. When you’re not part of society’s workforce, by default you’re marginalised from it, and this can be detrimental to your confidence and self-esteem. Not having an income impacts your social life. As bonding with friends at the pub no longer becomes an option, you may have become isolated from your usual social circle, and loneliness can have devastating effects on your psyche.

A job gave structure to your day – you had to be up and out of the house by a certain time – but not having a job to go to means it doesn’t matter if you never get out of bed, sleep during the day or stay up all night. Empty days roll into empty weeks, empty weeks into empty months. The loss of a sense of purpose in life can make you go literally crazy.

In January I had reckoned I’d have a job by end of February, just because the first month of the year tends to be slow. In February I told myself by March I’d be working, and noticed, slightly panicked, that the balance on my bank account was reaching critical point. By end of March I had stopped leaving the house for anything other than local grocery shopping , using public transport only for my fortnightly trips to the JobCentre and any job interviews. I cut down my meals to one and a half a day and, for extra reassurance, made nominal savings wherever I could – I cancelled my Netflix subscription and switched my facial cream from Liz Earle’s to one sold at Lidl for less than two pounds.

My JobCentre adviser reminded me my contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance would run out at the end of May. “How are you getting on with your job search?” It was more an admonition than a question.

By then my CV had been submitted to all recruitment agencies in town and most online job sites. I’d been to several job interviews that led to…nothing. Even attempts at being ‘proactive’, such as sending speculative letters directly to prospective employers and hounding friends in the industry to ask about vacancies, had ended up in a black hole.

Losing My Mind
Anyone who’s been unemployed for a length of time knows  how soul-destroying job hunting eventually becomes. The amount of time you spend preparing a job application doesn’t seem to be compensated by the outcomes. You may have expanded your job search to include positions that are beneath your qualifications, only to be met with a wall of silence. Or you dared going for your dreams and applied in an area you have no experience in but would love to get into. Those are called ‘dream’ jobs for a reason.

Well-meaning friends trying to be helpful can end up sending you further down the dark hole. A comment meant as a compliment can have the opposite effect and make you feel totally inadequate: “But you have loads of experience, you’re good at your job, and you speak five languages! How come you can’t find a job?!” The sympathetic ones won’t make accusations but would like you to meet them for lunch in town so they can comfort you, forgetting that lunch isn’t free, and London has the most expensive transport system on planet Earth.

The positivity tips I wrote about on this blog in the New Year no longer motivated me on a day-to-day basis. I’m known for being a steadfast optimist, but how long can one go on feeling motivated writing letters saying how good you are at a job, when all you get back is one continuous rejection. And, if, additionally, you suffer any upsets in your personal relationships during unemployment, they are bound to hurt twice as much and add to your feelings of inadequacy and failure.

Gradually, I started losing interest in tidying up the house, stopped going to libraries, stopped exercising, stopped answering phone calls and emails that weren’t strictly related to job search. All I wanted was the world to leave me alone. I had nothing to say to anyone anyway. The less I did, the more exhausted I felt, the more sleep I needed, the less I wanted to leave the house.

My day-to-day was starting to resemble that of a prisoner observing the world through the grid of a cell’s window, talking to birds and clouds because there is no one else to talk to. In my confused mental state, I wondered if being a prisoner would be more sociable than life as a jobseeker. There would be inmates, even wardens. I’d have no rent nor electricity bills to worry about, and meals would be provided for. I wouldn’t have a job, but I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for not having one either because my job would be to feel guilty for my crime. I wouldn’t have to prove myself in endless cover letters because I’d belong to the lowest rung of society anyway. I’d be a permanent reject rather than a potential on-and-off one.

It could be jobseekers’ fatigue, but some days I feel as if I’m losing my mind.

Meaning of Life
Being unemployed for seven months, utterly broke and heart-broken, with no family nor partner to rely on for support, made me question what the meaning of life is. What is the point of staying alive?

The other evening a friend said to me, “Do you realise most of our jobs will be taken over by robots soon? There’ll be no jobs for any of us!” According to this article by Yuval Noah Harari, by 2050 there will be a new class of ‘useless’, unemployable people because artificial intelligence will have replaced their jobs. The author says there is no meaning in human life, except what is ascribed to it by our minds. In order to generate meaning, some resort to computer games, some to virtual reality games, others to religion or to consumerism, which, Harari says, are ultimately also fantasy games.

But if I’m not interested in Pokémon hunting nor in collecting points to go to heaven, how do I fill my existence with enough purpose to keep me from slashing my wrists? It’s no wonder so many jobless people end up falling into depression.

If you’re unemployed and think you may be suffering from, anxiety, depression or any other mental health issues, you might like to know the charity Shaw Trust has a programme called Aim4Work, which offers support in getting you back into work for up to nine months, and even after you start working. You can call them on 0800 389 0177 or email Aim4Work@shaw-trust.org.uk to check your eligibility.

Tipping Point
As part of our upbringing, we are taught to put on a brave face and march on even when things become unbearable. We live by the motto “I can’t go on. I will go on,” as Samuel Beckett put it. Sometimes we can go on for a long time, unaware of our pain, until something breaks us open.

For me that moment came when I was queuing at the till of my local Lidl a little over a month ago. A young Muslim couple was standing in front of me with a large trolley. I had a full basket myself, but the wife turned to me and kindly offered me her place in the queue, as I had less shopping than them. I had given up my place in the queue to other shoppers countless times before, but this was the first time anyone had offered me the same. Lidl tills can scan incredibly fast, and trying to shove all my shopping into three small cloth bags within seconds proved to be an inefficient idea. I started dropping my groceries everywhere while I fumbled with my wallet under the chilly look of the woman at the till. Her judgement of my clumsiness unnerved me. The faster I tried to put my shopping away, the more things I dropped, the more ridiculous I felt. Before I knew, the husband of the Muslim woman was picking up my groceries from the floor and helping me bag them, as if he was my bagging assistant.

As I paid for my shopping, profusely thanking the man for his help, my eyes caught his wife’s. I saw her face, framed by her scarf, her eyes dark, warm and sparkly. She was smiling, but it wasn’t a condescending smile. It was a look that said “I know”, which brought me instant comfort.

It was the end of March. London was still in shock from the terror attack on Westminster Bridge the week before. A few days later several Muslim women had formed a human chain on the bridge in solidarity for the victims. I’d felt ashamed at the bigotry these admirable women have to suffer daily from those who think all Muslims are terrorists, and I had silently apologised to them. It occurred to me that the human soul works in mysterious ways. Maybe the Muslim woman at Lidl knew something about my pain as I knew about hers?

As I walked out into the street, laden with bags, thick tears started streaming down my face. I took the back streets and sobbed all the way home. The kindness of two strangers had saved my day. Someone had cared enough to reach out and help when I hadn’t even asked. Because asking for help is so hard.

Unemployment messes with your head big time. I’m clearly at the end of my tether.

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Musings on commuting and sleep deprivation

Earlier this month I read an article about chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group’s extended sick leave, which turned out to be stress-related. In the interview with the Evening Standard, Antonio Harta-Osorio talks about his battle with insomnia and says:

“I understand now why they use sleep deprivation to torture prisoners.”

Well, so do I.

Unlike the Lloyds boss, stress does not keep me awake at night, but living in the south coast and  working in Central London, I spend at least four hours a day on trains, and the amount of free time left within any 24 hours is so limited, I am constantly torn between sleeping more and doing less or sleeping less and doing more (of what I want to do when I am not at work), while risking total burnout and a desperate craving for even 30 seconds of shuteye anywhere….sitting, standing, even walking.

Two months into my new full-time job in London, life could not be have turned out more different from my days of unemployment, enforced idleness and ‘escapist’ oversleeping.

My day starts at 5.50am for catching the 7am service into London. In the evening, due to train delays and poorer train connections, I am rarely home before 8pm.

It is not unusual for me to be eating dinner at 9.30pm. With a few hours added of winding down and personal work time afterwards,  I am lucky if I can get eight hours’ sleep over two days.

Forty winks on the go
The sleep I miss during the night I try to make up for on my homebound train.

In the first few weeks, as an unpractised novice, I barely managed 10 minutes of light catnapping, before being woken by the conductor checking tickets or someone sitting down next to me. As I learned to relax more, the catnap got extended to a 20-minute uninterrupted snooze, then 30 (the conductor must have given up on me!). I am now able to expertly delve into deep sleep for 50 minutes to one hour and wake up feeling re-energised.

While comparing notes on our commutes and respective lack of sleep, a journalist friend, who travels to his office in west London from Brighton, told me he had become “quite anal” about tracking his sleeping habits and had been using an app called Sleepbot, which logs data and analyses your sleep…with stats and graphs.

Being  presented with a personal ‘sleep infographic’ showing  how awful my sleeping habits are might serve as a mild motivator to go to bed earlier, but in reality, the more stressed I am, the longer I need to stay up in order to feel I have had some quality me-time before calling it a day.

Some people find slumping in front of the telly helps relax, others may prefer to read or listen to music. I am addicted to my emails and my social networking sites, so online is where I go to unwind.

Balance
One of my biggest frustrations right now is not being able to find the time to blog, when writing is the activity that most brings me joy. Between blogging and sleeping I’d choose blogging every time. But until someone invents a pill that can replace sleeping time, sleep deprivation will always get me in the end.

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue, impair your brain function and cause weight loss or gain. I once read that when you are tired for not having had enough sleep, your body craves carbohydrates and sugars for the energy boost they can provide. No wonder I snack so much during the day.

Even at the cost of becoming a little bit stupider, fatter and uglier with ever growing dark circles under my eyes and a constantly bloated face, I can’t help pushing my body to carry on with minimum sleep and maximum achievement, and not only in my professional life.

When just travelling to and back from work takes up so much time and energy, where do you find the time to pursue your non-work activities f0r that perfect work-personal life balance?

How do you enrich your daily life when your everyday is so time poor? If you know the solution, please let me know.

Super efficiency
In contract to the slumbering mode on my journey home, I feel driven and motivated on the train into work.  I discovered that checking my (work) emails on the morning commute with a laptop and dongle is very efficient and gives me a sense of achievement. This, I find, is also the perfect time to revise my to-do lists. By the time I arrive in the office, I have already replied a few emails and set the priorities for the day.

How to keep more focussed and productive during the day despite distractions and interruptions is an issue I am still grappling with. Ideally, I would like to get so organised, I’d have the time and head space to write short blog posts during my lunch break, purely for pleasure, to be continued after dinner in the evening.

On the occasional down days, when I feel I can no longer bear the commute, I remind myself  of the alternative: I could be back in that dark hole called unemployment, where there is abundant time for sleep but no light at the end of the tunnel.

Tablets or teleportation?
I find solace in the the thought that I am not alone in this daily struggle. The vast majority of passengers on my morning and evening trains are long-distance commuters, who live in the south coast because they cannot afford a London home. We are united in our shared exhaustion and our sleep-deprived stupor.

For the amount of money I fork out every month on travel cards to Southern Railway – one of my colleagues rents a room in London for less than my train fare – one would expect seats to be fully reclinable with a complimentary pillow and blanket for an optimum sleeping experience.

My sleep obsessed Brighton friend says that if there is a company developing matter transportation he will buy shares in it. So will I. Teleportation Star Trek style is definitely the way forward.

That or a sleep replacement pill.

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The blog that made me ‘come out’ as a closet depressive

Last week there was a change in my fate: I was offered a three-day-a-week sales job locally, starting at the end of the month. It is miles away from what I had envisaged as a longer-term profession but it will help tidy me over nicely, while I wait for a more permanent and career-boosting opportunity to arise.

In my mind I am still unemployed, but in practice, I can finally sign off the JobCentre, which is almost enough reason to celebrate.

Later, at home, as I busied myself telling the good news to all and sundry on Facebook and Twitter, I saw a friend had sent me the link to a blog post by Bristol-based unemployed journalist Steven Baxter. It was one of those amazing serendipitous moments. Once I opened the link, I instantly knew it was all meant to be.

I read Steve’s blog and cried like a baby. All the anger, the frustration, the sadness and despair that had been festering inside me  for the past seven months came spewing out in one massive flood of tears and emptied me of all the heavy weight I had been carrying around on my shoulders for so long.

It occurred to me it was the first time in months I was crying at all.

Woman on the verge
Only the previous day, I had googled “nervous breakdown” and was dismayed to find out I could tick almost every single item on the symptoms checklist. I had been having inexplicable outbursts of anger, unable to cope with the simplest domestic tasks without injuring myself and screaming my head off each time, partly in pain, partly as a desperate cry for attention… Worst of all, my behaviour pattern reminded me of someone I knew well from my childhood: my own mother.

My mother was an intelligent, ambitious woman, good at languages. Before she married, she had dreamed of becoming a career woman but my father was an old-school Japanese man and would not allow her to work. She was forced into a lifetime of domestic slavery and her frustration at being stuck at home, as I am now, led her to several nervous breakdowns when I was a child. I remember them vividly: the constant screaming and hostility, the hysterical crying, objects flying about in the living-room followed by days in bed shunning the entire family, completely indifferent to the world.

It frightened me to think I could be becoming the kind of woman I had dreaded turning into all my life…

The D-word
I devoured every word on Steve’s blog with the emotional craving of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Every question Steve had asked himself, every thought and every emotion he describes in his blog I had had too. He had translated into words sentiments that had been tormenting me for months but I had not dared express in public because I was concerned about the risks to my employability. What if a prospective employer saw my blog and found me too psychologically unbalanced and unfit for work?

Steve, however, with disarming honesty, goes on to admit on a very public platform that he is on anti-depressants, 40mg to be exact, and gives two fingers to any employers who may find out and object.

“The weeks of not having work have felt like a heavy load. Sometimes it’s felt like disappointment, and sometimes it’s felt like despair. Sometimes it has just felt OK, like nothing, like a glass of water, and that’s probably the most dangerous feeling of all: the time it feels all right to be like this is the time to worry. This isn’t all right. This isn’t good enough. This isn’t what I should be doing. I should be doing something – anything – rather than this. But mainly it has felt sad and dispiriting. I am a little broken.”

His candid words liberated me. Thanks to Steve, I am no longer afraid to share with all who care to read this that, in the past few months, I too have been receiving regular counselling (but not drugs) for what the GP diagnosed as ‘moderate to severe depression’ – a direct consequence of being jobless for so long for the second time in three years.

I am sure I am not the only person, unemployed or not, suffering from this very common condition. But I also know that, unless you have experienced it, you may not be fully aware of what depression actually means (see video at end of this post).

It means your sleep patterns are disrupted, you are constantly exhausted, your zest for life gone, as if the lights in your house were being put out one by one. Women may find their menstrual cycle has gone haywire. Maybe you constantly have digestive problems. You may have panic attacks or feel extremely uncomfortable in social situations, so you avoid meeting your friends; you may feel you are not in control, that each task on your to-do list seems so overwhelming, it can take you weeks or months to complete – if at all.

Depression incapacitates you because, in trying to cope with the extreme stress, your brain and your body slow you down to a halt.

I had promised people I’d write blog posts for them (sorry, Shirley), or do the copy for their website (sorry, Pete), that I’d write an article after I interviewed them (sorry, Glenn), I’d respond to an email query (sorry, Ben). Although I am not one to to promise and not keep my word, I have been pathetically unable to accomplish ANY of those things. I let everyone down, including myself.

You may be a high achiever but currently you feel like an underachiever; you are paranoid people are judging you, labelling you as lazy and incapable, when, in reality, you are simply too unwell to get out of bed in the morning. Some days you may be too down to write a job application letter but some people, even your immediate family, may suggest you’re not finding work because you’re not applying for enough jobs and ‘what do you do with all that free time during the day anyway?’ You know that is not true, but your self-esteem is so low, after so many job rejections and what not, you don’t bother to explain, in fact you are not even sure you are not actually a total failure…

Well, the good news is: it is perfectly okay to feel like that. If you recognise some or all of the signs above, embrace them, own them. Acceptance is the first big step towards healing.

Coming Out
I love the Japanese expression‘kokoro ga arawareru‘. It translates as ‘the soul/spirit gets cleansed’ and it perfectly describes how I felt that day. The cry I had after reading Steve’s blog cleansed my soul of all the resentment I had been harbouring for months. I felt every single ball of pain inside me explode, then dissolve, until there were no more knots left.

It felt so good to know I wasn’t alone where I was.

We feel bad about feeling bad because there is a social stigma associated with depression and all mental health issues. It is almost like a homosexual “coming out”, done with trepidation, unsure of who will accept and who will not.

Unless you are a celebrity like Stephen Fry, whom no one would dare call unfit for work despite his bipolar disorder, admitting you are so low you need medical help can make people nervous. Perhaps you are hiding too?

Bitter Pill
The UK government has just released the latest ONS unemployment figures: 2.51 million without a job, an increase of 80,000 in the three months to July 2011. Last May the think tank IPPR had already reported that 850,000 people had been unemployed for more than 12 months, the highest figure since 1997.

How many of those are feeling the same way as me, or Steven Baxter, or worse and are terrified to say “me too”, afraid to ask for help, confused about where to go for help?

With the upcoming part-time job, I feel slightly more upbeat, less anxious, and definitely less angry, but I still have some way to go until I am completely back to being my old  self.

While I mend, my sincere hope is that this blog, like Steve’s, can inspire others in a similar situation to open up and share without fear of prejudice, to form a community where people will encourage one another not to give in. It may not help you get a job, but it might serve as a little respite from the bitter pill of unemployment. Or your own 40mg.

Dr. John Hague explains the difference between having a bad day and being depressed.

Links that may be useful if you think you may be depressed

  1. Depression self-assessment test – NHS
  2. Depression self-assessment test – Psychology Today
  3. Self-help and coping tips for Depression from Helpguide.org
  4. Understanding depression – Mind

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Surviving unemployment lows: what I learned from an actor’s life

Jenga work

Photo by 'santibon' (Flickr)

A few days ago my husband mentioned an article he had read in the Guardian about Scottish actor Jeff Stewart. I didn’t even know who Stewart was, but the story struck a chord with me so I went to look for it myself.

It was an ‘a-ha moment’. Sometimes you come across something seemingly trivial, which can unlock the key to a deeper understanding of your present situation.

My story
My situation was that I had reached an all-time low after a string of unfortunate job rejections, despite several interviews for which feedback had been excellent.

One thing is is not getting a job for failing to meet its requirements, or for interviewing poorly. That’s easier to accept and move on. Another is to be praised for your “strong CV”, your “outstanding skills and experience”, being told what a “fantastic candidate” you are…only to be informed you haven’t got the job for reasons that have no connection with your competency for the role.

Had this happened in the first few weeks after I became unemployed, I would have put it down to bad luck. But in my seventh month looking for work it pushed me over the edge – I felt literally suicidal.

Much as I try not to rest too long on thoughts about the past that cannot be changed, it has become increasingly harder to get back on my feet after a fall. When you can see no flicker of light at the end of a tunnel, is it even worth continuing the journey? How can you want something so much, work so hard for it and still not be able to achieve it? How can the universe be so cruel, slamming all doors in your face one after another?

Stewart’s story
The lights must have gone out in the life of actor Jeff Stewart too when he was told his role as PC Reg Hollis in the long-running ITV police drama the Bill was to be axed after 24 years. Feeling  let down, he went into his dressing room and cut his wrists but  changed his mind and called for help moments before he blacked out.

That was in 2008. After a complete change of image ( he did not cut his hair for three years) to avoid being typecast as his old character, Jeff Stewart went on to get roles in four films. One of those, Under Jakob’s Ladder,  a low-budget movie made in only 21 days, and Stewart were both winners at the Manhattan Film Festival last month: the film won best period piece while Stewart earned the best actor award.

Newspapers this week have been reporting that Stewart’s award will probably shoot him to Hollywood stardom. The Bill, on the other hand, only survived for two more years after Stewart was sacked.

Jeff Stewart must be glad his life did not end when he thought it was no longer worth living. He told the Sun his suicide attempt was “sobering”.

His story reads like a fable.  He understood that  playing Reg Hollis was not the be all and end all of an actor’s career – there were many more roles for him to play in life, both artistically and literally. As a result, he got to where he needed to get.

Jenga blocks
Jeff Stewart’s success story reminded me that sometimes things you want don’t come your way because what you want is not necessarily what you need at the time. But if you persevere, sweet rewards and greater joys may be in store.

If you have ever played Jenga, you know how the blocks wobble every time a piece is taken out. How many pieces can you remove before the whole tower collapses?

You may also be aware that the blocks you can safely lose are those that will easily come out when you gently tap them with your finger. Likewise, if you treat each blow during your unemployment as a ‘loose’ wooden block you can get rid of because it is actually dispensable, you are more likely to end up winning the game. Remember: those blocks are expendable; there is no need to hang on to them. Let go.

Losing them may momentarily shake the structure but won’t destroy the building, which is supposed to grow taller. Think about this concept for a minute. By disposing of unnecessary “baggage” of past anger, hurts and resentments, whatever they may be, you can travel lighter and faster to your personal stardom.

Not that I am aiming for a career in Hollywood; I simply want to bid  farewell to life on the dole.

I thank Jeff Stewart for the inspiration.

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10 practical tips for overcoming those Christmas blues

Being out of work around Christmas time can bring on a terrible feeling of despair and despondency. Christmas blues can hit anyone, even if you have job, but if you can barely afford to buy Christmas presents for your loved ones because you are unemployed, you are probably wanting it to go away as quickly as possible.

So what do you do when cards arrive in the post saying ‘Merry Christmas!’ but ‘merry’ is a sentiment you have long lost touch with?

How do I know I have the blues?
In my experience, depression manifests itself in various forms. Can you identify yourself with any of the symptoms below?

  1. Extreme patterns of sleep: this could be sleeping too much (“I want to stay hidden under the duvet”) or too little (insomnia)
  2. No focus or energy: your to do list is enormous but you find it a struggle to get even a single one crossed out.
  3. Weight fluctuation: you are either eating too much comfort food and putting on weight or you have lost your appetite
  4. Breakdown in relationships/social life: you catch yourself constantly grumpy or moody without a reason, snapping at your partner or friends; you have run-ins with people over trivial matters, after which you feel worse.
  5. Extreme apathy: you can’t be bothered to wash or get dressed, you don’t feel like cooking, nor taking any exercise; your friends call or write but you ignore them. You want the world to leave you alone and forget that you exist.

If you answered YES to one or more of the above behaviour patterns, you may find some of the tips below useful. They are personally tested methods that can help change your focus from the half-empty-cup thinking to an almost-full one. 

Shifting your thinking paradigms

1)  Indulge a little: okay, you haven’t worked in many months and you are skint. But for very little money you can actually lift your mood and re-gain the strength to face another day. Check discount shops, pound shops or charity shops for something cheap and silly that will cheer you up. Indulge in food or drink that gives you pleasure; go somewhere associated with happy memories; use that bubble bath you got for your last Christmas. Sometimes small efforts can make all the difference.

2) Give yourself a break: if you have ever done one of those online job application forms, which takes days to fill in, you know they can drain the life out of you. When you feel you’ve reached a point of saturation, put the job hunting aside for a few days and give your brain a “holiday”. Forcing an exhausted brain to work is like flogging a dead horse. Go watch a movie, read a book, visit a friend, play computer games, write a blog…whatever helps you relax. When you feel ready to carry on, you will notice you will be mentally sharper and your concentration power will be back.

3) Share with friends: it is quite common for an unemployed person to feel isolated from the rest of the working world. You feel embarrassed every time someone asks you what you do (for a living); you feel no one would understand how miserable you are and wish the world would leave you alone. Negative emotions, which remain unexpressed, can fester inside you and bring you further down. Be brave: invite a friend for a coffee and tell them how you are feeling.  You’d be surprised how many people around you are actually feeling as low as you are and could also do with some cheering up. They will be relieved you took the intiative to open up. Just being able to share your pain with someone else will immediately makes it more bearable.

4) Tidy up your space: a cluttered room is a sign of a cluttered mind. Spend half a day doing a major clear-out in the room you spend most of your day in. File, archive, throw away things you don’t really need. If you are inspired, hoover, polish, dust…do a spring cleaning as well. I can guarantee you will feel an enormous sense of achievement afterwards, your mind will be calmer and youwill be more inspired to battle on.

5) Tidy up your inbox: an inbox bulging with far more emails than you have time to read can become a source of stress. Your circumstances may be making you feel overwhelmed anyway and your emails may have got out of control while you were busy job hunting. If that is the case, it’s time for a spring cleaning in your Inbox too.

a) First, delete all junk mail and unsubscribe from any email alerts you don’t really need. You can always re-subscribe to them later.
b) Create a temporary folder called “To clear” and subdivide it into a few sub-folders naming them by subject, e.g. “friends”,”family”, “to respond”, “job alerts”, “news digests”, etc
c) File the unread emails into the sub-folders by category.You should now only have a small number of messages left in your main inbox, which are not urgent, and it already looks far more manageable.
d) Set a time everyday, say half an hour in the morning, half an hour in the evening, when you’ll do nothing else but browse these unread emails and either file them away, respond/action or delete them. Don’t be tempted to dip into them at any other time. Don’t try to read them all in one go either, as it will backfire. It may take a week or more, but you will get there. And it won’t stress you as much, as there is order in the chaos. You’re back in control.

6) Learn the benefits of walking: unless you are a naturally sporty person and can be motivated to go to the gym even on a “blue day”, your apathy about life may have made you stop caring about getting fit. Yet, exercising is not only about fitness or calory burning; your mind also benefits from the feel-good hormones that are released during physical activity. When you are down, you may not have the energy to go on the treadmill, do an aerobics class or swim. Is there anything gentler available at your local gym or advertised at your local library or news agent? A yoga class? Pilates? Taichi? If none of those appeal, walking is as good as any other exercise. If you live in the city, choose somewhere calm and green, like a park, to walk in.

  1. While walking empty your head of thoughts and focus you attention on each step you take and on each breath that goes in and out of your lungs, nothing else. Walk mindfully.
  2. If you get bored of that walking meditation try the opposite and do a vigorous affirmation about something you would like to change in your life or your self-image. If you would like to be more confident and popular, repeat in your head, “I am confident and popular, I am confident and popular” creating a rhythm with your steps. Do this for at least 5 minutes (time yourself), 20 if you can, after which either go back to meditative walking or move on to another affirmation (make them short and rhythmic for best effect).

You are achieving three things here:

  1. making energy flow better by moving your body
  2. creating positive vibrations that will be fed to your subconscious (even if you don’t believe in what you’re affirming) 
  3. bringing a sensation of profound peace to your mind by tapping into the stillness within.

7) Write an acknowledgment list every week: there is a wonderful game I play with a handful of my friends called TILT, “Things I Love On a Thursday”, but you can do it on any other day of the week. Every Thursday we jot down on an email a few things in the past week that we feel grateful about and send it to the others in the circle so we can read each other’s TILTs. It makes you take stock of the week and forces you to shift your focus from always looking for things that make you unhappy to looking for positives to be thankful for. TILT items can be as mundane as “the sun came out”, or “I managed to complete the paper’s crossword puzzle”. What matters is you are celebrating the good things that happen in your life everyday and you forget to take note of.

8) Make a list of achievements in your life: long-term unemployment can affect your self-confidence and make you feel like a failure. Suddenly, the fact that you haven’t got a job becomes so much larger in your imagination than all the things you have already achieved and forgotten about. What are the things you are proud of in your life so far? Don’t just think of awards and competitions. It could be anything, such as passing your driving test, overcoming a challenge, learning a new skill… Write them down on a piece of paper and don’t stop until you reach AT LEAST 20 items. It is harder than you think. By the time you reach 20, you may remember 5 more. Add them. Keep on adding as many as you like. Read that list everyday; close your eyes and try to remember what it felt like when you achieved what you did; just bask in that feeling for a moment with your entire body. Then put the list away and carry on with your normal life. This exercise will help create a vibration of success, which will put your subconscious in a success-achieving mode. Trust me; it works. Every time you start getting down, get the list out and do it again. Remind yourself what a successful person you are.

9) Make a list of five things you want to put behind you and five things you want to happen to you next year: one of my neighbours does this as a special New Year ceremony every year. She burns the list of the things she wants to bury for good and puts the five wishes for the future somewhere she can contemplate from time to time throughout the year to see what progress she is making. I really like the idea and am going to try it out myself. You can programme your own subconscious to make positive things happen by writing your intentions down like this. My friend wrote down a detailed description of the character of the man she wanted to meet. Months later she met her husband and is now happily married and expecting his baby. Honest.

10) Practise a random act of kindness: ironically, when we desperately hang onto something we don’t want to lose, they seem to slip away from us even faster. The anxiety we create by grasping onto things, create a negative energy that ends up attracting exactly what we feared the most. In order to attract the things we desire in life, we have to direct our thoughts to what we want, not what we don’t want.

If your dream is to find a stable job that will earn you decent money, start behaving now as if you have already achieved it. How many times have you passed the homeless man outside the supermarket but you didn’t give him anything because you thought you couldn’t afford to part with your pennies. How often have you told yourself you would help a charity, or a friend in need, “when I win the lottery”? I’m afraid I’ve done it many times. “I can’t afford, I can’t afford”…was all I could think of. For months and months I denied myself things I wanted and I denied others any type of charity because I felt I wasn’t in a position to help them. The moment I started putting others’ needs before my own, my own blues started to subside, and a new feeling of wealth and abundance began to seep in.  By giving I am opening up to receive.

Isn’t it Christmas after all?

Merry Christmas and sincere wishes for a fantastic job in the New Year!

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