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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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10 money-saving tips Jobcentres won’t give you

When David Shorthose, a 55-year-old unemployed IT auditor, said in the Saturday Guardian’s Work supplement that his Jobcentre experience was”nothing short of a comedy script”, he hit the nail on the head. He tells the Guardian:

“You quickly have to get over the assumption that the Jobcentre is there to find you work, and get used to the fact that they are there just to process benfits.”

From my own personal experience I can say that the Jobcentre functions on an “ask or you will not be given” principle. Unless you ask very specific questions, it does not occur to them to pass on any information that might help a jobseeker not only to find work, but to survive on his meagre £64.30-a-week jobseeker’s allowance (£50.95 if you are between 16 and 24).

I have compiled below a list of 10 tips that could save you a little money along the way – most of which I came to discover by accident:

  1. Check whether you are eligible for tax refund – if you earned less than £6035 in the previous tax year, including interest on any money you have in the bank, you are entitled to a tax rebate from the HM Revenue and Customs (the old Inland Revenue). Get your P45 or P60 out and all bank tax deduction certificates (these show how much tax the bank deducted in a tax year and should have been sent to you last April), and visit the HMRC site for further instructions or give them a call – I found them very helpful on the phone. I was overjoyed to recoup a few hundred pounds this way, and HMRC was fairly quick in processing it.
  2. Get fit  with gym concessionary rates – one of the problems about being out of work is you can become even more sedentary than when you had that office job. As a result you may pile up on the pounds and lose stamina, which, particularly if you are out of work, could damage your self-esteem. If you currently go to a private gym, cancel your membership (unless you can afford it) and find your nearest local government subsidised leisure centre. These usually offer concessionary rates for certain activities and classes. Use them. And if they have pre-paid bulk buy options, get those. I only recently discovered swimming at my local pool is half the normal price if you are on the dole, and you can buy a swimcard with 11 swims for the price of 10, all at half price. This means that even if you become employed before the card is used up, you can continue to benefit from the discounted rate. You couldn’t find a better excuse to get fit. And if you cannot find a cheap leisure centre, forget the running machine and the kickboxing classes for a while and go jogging in a park – for free.
  3. Use and abuse your local library – I had not used a library since my student days, ie a long long time ago, and I usually prefer to own my own books anyway. But once I got back into the habit of borrowing books from the library it became addictive. You have all the time in the world to read those books you always wanted to but was too busy for. Now is the time to start crossing out titles on that wish list. Try to read not only fiction but also thought-provoking non-fiction in areas of your interest, which might inspire you to write an article in future. Loans of books are free of charge but there is usually a fee for CDs and DVDs – which can be discounted for jobseekers. The Brighton & Hove’s Jubilee Library in East Sussex offers half price on all loan fees, including fees for reserving books. And if you can’t bear the idea of a loaned book, trawl through car boot sales and charity shops. Oxfam, for instance, is currently outselling independent bookshops. Get cultured.
  4. Sign up for email alerts from MoneSavingExpert.com – if you haven’t already. This is money-saving guru Martin Lewis’ site, winner of the London Press Consumer Journalist award of the year. It offers hundreds of tips on saving money from best mortgage lenders to how to save on your energy bills and where to get discount vouchers for restaurants and shops. It will be useful to you even after you start working again.
  5. The Jobcentre can cover your interview travel costs – not all of them, but those “outside your area”, a definition they seem to leave intentionally vague. I live in East Sussex and travel to interviews in Central London can be claimed back from the Jobcentre. What the Jobcentre doesn’t always explain to you is that you need to call them as soon as you have got the interview confirmed (not after the interview) to get their pre-approval on the phone. On your next sign-on day you must produce a receipt and proof that you attended the interview: a letter from the prospective employer or a printed email will do. It must contain a contact name, address and telephone number of the company so that they can call to verify that you are not telling porky pies. The fare (includes cost of petrol pro rata if you travelled by car) is then paid directly into your account after a few days.
  6. You could have a work suit sponsored by the Jobcentre – it’s true, and it is paid out at the discretion of the Jobcentre adviser. If you are signed on for JSA (jobseeker’s allowance) and you find a job, you may not be able to afford a decent suit (or any “tools” you may need in your profession) to wear in your first few weeks when you haven’t received your first wage yet. The Jobcentre can help you buy one with a “small contribution”. I am sure it cannot be a Chanel or an Armani but they may not specify one from Primark either, so I would take full advantage of that one. As with the interview travel expenses, call them in advance for approval.
  7. Visit a Citizen’s Advice Bureau – “Sign-on” at Jobcentres lasts about 20 seconds once you’re sitting in front of an advisor, and they are all rushed to see the next person in the queue. If you have children to support, need help with NHS costs, are worried about managing complex debts, etc you are better off paying a visit to the nearest CAB office for advice on what other financial help you are entitled to  apart from your jobseeker’s benefits.
  8. Check if you are eligible for council tax discount – if you live alone, are diasbled, or share accommodation with a student, or are studying yourself, you can claim a 25% reduction in your council tax, which can be a huge relief in this recession. Call your local council and ask them what you need to do to claim the discount. This is not to be confused with council tax benefit, which, as with housing benefits, will only be paid out to you if you have less than £16,000 in savings in the bank. Bear in mind your live-in partner’s savings will be taken into consideration in that calculation.
  9. Don’t call the Jobseeker Direct Line from your personal phone – use the Jobcentre’s phones. Ironically the helpline number for jobseekers to inquire about job vancies is a premium rate 0845 number, which could cost up to 40p a minute if made from a mobile phone. That is equivalent to giving with one hand and taking with another. Every Jobcentre has at least a couple of phones, which jobseekers can use free of charge. There may be a queue but persevere. Every penny counts.
  10. If you do an internship do it quietly – the jobseeker’s allowance is paid to you on condition that you are actively looking and make yourself available for work at all times. Any paid part-time work you do over 16hs/week affects your benefits, but unpaid work placements will too. As I explained in my previous post, you need to write down in your ‘dole book’ SIX things you did to try and find work every fortnight, so make sure you have enough to fill in the blanks. And don’t try to change your fortnightly appointments at the Jobcentre. They are very strict about those and will get suspicious if you do it too often with a sloppy excuse. You want to gain experience but not lose your dosh. However, if you are lucky enough to be offered a paid internship that exceeds your weekly allowances, the best thing to do is come off the JSA temporarily and go back on it (called “quick recall”)as soon as the internship ends, if you think you will be unemployed for a while longer.

If you have any other tips to add that worked for you, or comments to make, please leave your two cents below.

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