For many people much of their self esteem and self concept comes from the work that they do. When the work is lost, so are the things that help define the person. Job loss continues to dominate our news and our landscape. On January 9th The US Department of Labor announced that 524 thousand jobs were lost in December, bring the total number of jobs lost for 2008 to 2.6 million! And fully 1.9 million of the 2008 losses happened since September. That makes the last four months of 2008 the worst period in my, and probably your lifetime. President-Elect Obama rightly calls the situation “dire.” Moreover, he and others have warned that it is likely to get worse before it gets better. There will much personal pain during the coming year.
Many people are worried about what might happen over the next year, and many people have already experienced abrupt job loss. They are struggling to cope with the financial, social and psychological losses that make unemployment so scary. While the financial losses are obvious, and the social losses make sense to everyone, little attention is being paid to the psychological aspect of job loss. Each of these kinds of lossed are connected in the overall impact they have on the person. The stresses and strains that come with both excessive worry about the future and real struggles with current unemployment can be devastating to the individual, and to their family. Many of the recent calls I’ve received are from people seeking help for problems related to the loss of their job including sleeplessness, problem drinking, marital discord, low self-esteem, and, in a couple of cases, self-destructive thoughts.
We cannot underestimate the many levels of grief and loss experienced when we lose our jobs, or the impact our struggles may have on our capacity to “start over”, on relationships with our family and friends, on our general physical health and more invisibly but just as dramatically, on our psychological health.
Seek professional therapeutic help or urge your spouse, partner or friend to seek help as soon as symptoms of stress and grief appear. Like all health problems, therapeutic intervention is most effective when it happens early.
Coined by Alfred Korzybski, this iconic phrase, “The map is not the territory”, concisely explained his idea that the idea of something is not the thing itself, meaning that an abstract idea cannot truly reflect the totality an experience, of another person or of an event. For example, ones belief about someone cannot possibly capture all that is true about that person.
Relationships are often fraught with minor, and sometimes major conflicts and misunderstandings. If, as Korzybski states, we can only know things through indirect abstractions and do not have access to the full reality of the world around us, we can take a cue from this simple yet profound notion and use it to create more satisfying relationships with others. Often the root of interpersonal relationships, whether positive, enjoyable and inspiring or negative, hurtful and constricting, can be found in our beliefs about the other person. When we can recognize that those beliefs should more accurately be called assumptions or at least partial truths, then there is room for a change in our “beliefs” and therefore in our way of relating. The willingness to find out about and understand the other person’s experience of the relationship, and correct inaccurate assumptions, both yours and theirs, is a prerequisite for improving mutual understanding and enhancing the possibility of a more authentic conversation.
We are of course used to having faith in our beliefs. That is after all why we hold them so dearly and tenaciously. It’s interesting that we can be so certain even though we all had numerous experiences of finding out we were wrong, or previously misinformed. We may believe someone cares about us, or doesn’t, and be surprised to find out how wrong we were.
Take a step today to find out how well your “map” reflects the “territory.”
Temporary problems sleeping often have effective self-help remedies. Even if you aren’t currently having problems sleeping, developing good bedtime habits will help ensure that you continue to sleep easily even during periods of stress.
Following these commonly agreed-upon sleep tips for more restful nights:
- For at least a 1/2 hour before bedtime, do something that is relaxing and prepares you to fall asleep. Ideas include having a easy conversation with your partner, pleasure reading (not something that requires intense concentration or memorization), listening to music,stretching, and taking a bath or shower.
- Try not to use your bedroom for work activities. Sitting in bed while using your laptop to write e/mails or blogs can disrupt the mental connection between your bed and sleep. If you don’t fall asleep in a reasonable time (perhaps 20 to 30 minutes), get up and go to another room to read (or relax in some other way) for a while longer. Go back to your bedroom, and to bed, when you are a little more drowsy.
- Don’t consume alcohol, high sugar foods or caffeine within four hours before bedtime. Not only do these substances stimulate your system, they may also cause you to wake up to use the bathroom more frequently during the night.
Of course if you are having long term problems sleeping (more than four weeks of insomnia or frequent waking) there could be many reasons. Getting a full physical examination is the first thing you should do. Next consider seeing a professional psychotherapist to determine if there is an emotional source and therapeutic help for your sleepnessness.
Good sleep habits, and if needed professional help, can result in you having restful and restorative sleep. Sweet dreams.
An oft used word, “coping” is something we all must do, and may do with good or not so good results. How we actually meet and manage the various challenges we face can be put on a scale ranging from: very active, somewhat active, somewhat passive, and finally very passive. People who have a more active coping style act assertively to identify specific challenges and fashioning new ways to meet them. They also tend to be more communicative about their challenges with those who are close to them, and feel confident in seeking support, information and professional assistance. Needless to say, people with an active coping style have much better outcomes than do the passive people, who too frequently wait for others to identify their needs and then volunteer to help. Importantly, those who are active feel more in control of their circumstances, and may not therefore feel as helpless or hopeless as do people who are passive in their coping style.
Active coping also helps to maintain strong relationships with family members and friends. Often family members have had to assume more of the ordinary household tasks, and can themselves feel frustrated and exhausted by the additional load (if you are a care taker, see my prior post on self care dated 11/06/08 for tips on Personal Care). By being active and reasonably assertive, and doing as much as possible for yourself, you can remain a greater part of the family’s day-to-day experiences. Being active in the family tasks also assures your supporters that when you ask for help they are really needed, and helps to reduce any tendency for them to feel misused or even resentful of the extra work they do. It can be very helpful to the emotional and physical health of your family supporters to encourage them to go out and enjoy themselves as often as possible, even though you may not be able to go along or participate if you do go. Your family members who are not experiencing illness should be able to enjoy their
Finally, it is helpful for everyone if you have a plan for those times when there is a temporary increase in your symptoms. This allows your support providers to plan ahead, and to have a clear sense of what they can do to help without needing to figure it out in the middle of the situation. It also helps everyone to know when extra support is no longer needed. Being confident that they will have a break when when you are able to resume some activities for yourself leaves your support people more willing to jump in next time you really need them.
In his recounting of the tragedy of children soldiers during the civil war in Sierra Leone, titled A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah tells of his descent into thoughtless violence and then his rehabilitation and re-emergence into the society of caring people. As several reviewers stated, it is a “mesmerizing and heart-breaking” account of something that is very wrong in our world today. Within the pages of this incredible story, Beah gives us insights into the gentle and compassionate thinking that reflected his home culture before it was torn to it’s basest elements by unspeakable acts of inhumanity.
He quotes a village elder from Kabati who, when Beah was a small child, repeated to everyone he met that “We must strive to be like the moon.” Beah’s grandmother explains that “the adage served to remind people to always be on their best behavior and to be good to others. She said that people complain when there is too much sun and it gets unbearably hot, and also when it rains too much or when it is cold. But, she said, no one grumbles when the moon shines. Everyone becomes very happy and appreciates the moon in their own special way. Children watch their shadows and play in its light, people gather at the square to tell stories and dance through the night. A lot of happy things happen when the moon shines. Those are some of the reasons why we should want to be like the moon.”
Every culture, each society, has similar cautionary and inspirational tales in their music, literature, poetry and art. There are many signs and hints for us that point to simple ways to live that result in contentment and peace-of-mind. Look around you for those signs, sayings, musical phrases that inspire you toward more Intentional Living, and consider actually LISTENING to (and putting into practice) their message. And remember, these ideas for gentle and peaceful living may be found anywhere. The setting need not be one of lofty and over-powering ambiance. As Paul Simon famously sang… “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.”
Moving toward Intentional Living strategies often takes only small yet incremental steps, taken with thoughtfulness and determination, guided by a quiet inner voice.
The statistics now say that there are more people receiving unemployment benefits than at any other time in our history. And as one pundit put it, “it’s going to get worse before it gets worse!”
The stresses for people who have lost or who anticipate losing their jobs are powerful, and touch each person in numerous and different ways (see my posts on 11/19/08, 1/09/09, and 2/25/09). What is clearly common among the unemployed is a sense of deep loss, and sustained grief. There are many ways in which loss of grief might be experienced, and for most there is some aspect of distress that shows through behavior changes. The changes may be subtle or dramatic and may themselves result in more turmoil in the person’s life, such as an increase in alcohol or substance use, difficulty sleeping, lashing out at others, problems with primary relationships, and self-destructive thoughts or actions.
It’s important not to wait for significant symptoms to emerge. If you have lost your job, or believe you will, it would be helpful for you to seek professional support as soon as possible. This will not directly give you another job, but will help you to manage the symptoms of stress and reduce the possibility of engaging in behavior that makes matters worse. Therapy can also help you to fact the difficulties, adapt, and adopt a perspective that will be helpful in maintaining a positive outlook and a personable style. Both will be important as you search and interview for new employment.
Make a contact with a qualified professional, and make an appointment sooner rather than later. It may be an important first step to getting back on the path to a contented life.