"Staying Sane" When You Have Way Too Much Time to Think

It was a Thursday like any other Thursday, until I got an email from someone on my team that “we should talk later.” Unusually formal, but OK. My Spider senses tingled, but only vaguely. “Later” came around and we went into the elevator bank. This also felt a little odd, but I hadn’t been paying attention to the meeting rooms on our floor; maybe they’re all full and we’re going to get coffee instead?

Never mind.

I watched her finger hit the button for the eighth floor. Unless a cafe was constructed under my nose in the past few days, eight is only home to the IT department, the mailroom and coffee machines that spew the same foul brown water that we have upstairs. I followed her to an out-of-the-way meeting room, where my suspicions were confirmed as soon as I saw who was already sitting in there.

Hey, human resources!

Yada yada yada. My job no longer exists.

So now what? I lost my job and getting a new one takes a bit. So, here’s my four-step plan for not losing my mind:

Step 1: Perspective

If I’m going to get laid off, really, is there a better time for it to happen than right before Labor Day?

Yes. The actual best time to be laid off is never.

I could go back and forth like that for hours.

On the one hand, I got a severance package, which granted me time to dedicate to the job search. On the other hand, the job search takes forever, as a rule…

See where I’m going with this?

As easy as it would be to wallow in despair and think about how much this sucks, that’s really dangerous business. Everyone knows, as they say, that negativity breeds negativity. So I just have to remind myself that this situation is temporary and it could be much, much worse.

Step 2: "GTFO"

There have been countless studies correlating Vitamin D and depression (several of which are mentioned in this Psychology Today article). Depression is the world’s leading cause of disability, affecting more than 300 million people. I’m not naturally inclined toward depression, but stress is certainly a catalyst and unemployment is certainly stressful.

I’ve made it my business to spend as much time outside as possible. Do I think that if I stay indoors, I’ll suddenly fall into some bottomless depressive episode? Of course not. But sunshine makes me—and a lot of other people, according to the science—happy, so why not take advantage of it while I’ve got all the time in the world?

Plus, thinking back to Step 1, I think this month of unemployment would have been a lot more unpleasant in January.

Step 3: Set Times for Searching

When you’re unemployed, getting a job obviously becomes your “job.” Most jobs have set hours and this one should, too. This step has been tougher to implement than the first two because it’s so easy to feel guilty for doing something fun when I “should” be doing something more productive, like writing a cover letter.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says that taking breaks improves productivity, and I’m inclined to believe them. If I were to just grind away on LinkedIn 24/7, I’d go insane. And I’d be so mentally fried that my cover letters would probably suck. My strategy has been to set aside certain times for the search and so far, I’m happy with it.

Step 4: Make a Bucket List

I’ll acknowledge right now that Step 4 isn’t for everyone. I left my job with a few weeks of pay so my financial situation is better than it could be, and my career is past entry-level so my chances of landing something else fairly soon are also better than they could be. Right there, that makes my unemployment experience much less stressful than someone else’s may be.

When I rejoin society, I’d like to be able to look back at this time and feel like I made the most of it. Obviously, that means getting a great new job. It also means that I didn’t just sit on my butt and waste however many weeks of my life sitting on my butt and watching Netflix (I did watch Ozark, though, and it was awesome).

I made a bucket list of goals that range from boring and practical, to physical, to mental. There are also a bunch on there that relate to experiencing and enjoying some of the things I never actually do that make my city so great.

So far I’ve biked the perimeter of Manhattan, visited some museums, hiked, read a lot, got in some beach time, gotten better at running, made a cookbook out of this folder full of recipes I’ve had for years, and cleaned out my closet inventory. I still need to go to the Bronx Zoo and the Tenement Museum, explore neighborhoods I’ve spent virtually zero time in and stop drinking soda. I’m saving that one for last. Cherry Coke Zero may be a pretty lame excuse for a vice, but it’s mine.

Did you ever lose a job? How did you “stay sane”?
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