How To Cope With The Anxiety Of Unemployment

One Man's Story

Jamie, age 45, is by all measures a talented and hard-working person. He has earned multiple graduate degrees and amassed much professional expertise. Yet Jamie finds himself unemployed, with no immediate job-prospects. He is surprised to find himself in this position in mid-life, and has been experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression. He says:

Frustrated, Scared, and Confused

“I’ve been feeling frustrated, wondering what it is that I can do, hating that I feel like I have to watch money more closely than I ever have before and not knowing how I’m going to pay bills or support my family. I’m intelligent and I’ve done things that are supposed to lead to success.

And yet, here I am, not certain of what the future is going to bring. If I’ve worked hard and don’t have very much to show for it, it’s hard to say that I’m going to get up and feel that I can do it all again. When you get rejection from your efforts—and when that happens enough—it’s hard to get past.”

The Recession

The current recession has brought unemployment concerns to the forefront of many people’s lives. As of July 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate in the United States is 9.1%. While the rate in Massachusetts comes in slightly lower at 7.6%, it is clear that unemployment is a visible and painful problem for many people.

This concern is felt not only by the unemployed, but also by those who are worried about losing the jobs they have or finding a full-time job for the first time.

Chronic Stress and Jobless-ness

The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University conducted a survey of 1,200 unemployed American workers. Results indicated that a strong majority of those still jobless experienced daily stress and feelings of depression and helplessness. Many of those surveyed also reported having difficulties with personal relationships and sleep problems. The findings underscore the very real mental health implications of ongoing unemployment.

Coping with Unemployment Anxiety

Experts have suggested ways that to cope with unemployment anxiety. Ideas include:

Acknowledgment of Adversity

Recognize being in a difficult situation. Unemployment is not likely to be a problem that is easily resolved, and has a lot to do with factors beyond individual control. It is important to demonstrate self-compassion during this period of personal adversity.

Avoiding Isolation

It is also helpful to remember that there are many, many, other people facing the same situation right now. Networking with other individuals looking for work and seeking out support of friends and family can help individuals cope with unemployment concerns.

Keeping Active

Seeking out opportunities to engage in activity, including exercise, intellectual stimulation, and service opportunities can aide in maintaining physical and mental health and can help take the focus off of being unemployed.

Re-Framing the Problem

While periods of unemployment can be challenging and uncertain, they can also be used to reevaluate professional goals, engage in new training, and think creatively about new directions.

Remaining Committed

Retaining a commitment to seek work opportunities and acting on that commitment by continuing to apply for posted jobs, attending job fairs, and seeking out support from local resources can help promote hopefulness during unemployment.

There are additionally many local resources which aim to help those who are looking for employment network with each other and to access helpful information. Some of these include:

Boston Area Networking Group (BANG)

Boston Women’s Network

Financial Executives Networking Group

Massachusetts Career Centers

New England Networking

Operation A.B.L.E (Ability Based on Long Experience)

(More comprehensive list can be found at

While the above coping strategies are useful, receiving more extensive support through psychotherapy may be helpful in cases where anxiety over unemployment issues is constant, manifested in physical symptoms (e.g., sleeplessness, muscle tension), and/or interfering with relationships and daily functioning.

Navigating unemployment anxiety is not easy and there will continue to be many people like Jamie, who struggle to cope with an unexpected turn of events in their professional lives. While solutions will not happen overnight, there is support available. If you feel the need to talk to someone about unemployment anxiety and/or professional transitions, please contact us at or call 617-738-1480.


Bureau of Labor Statistics AND

John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development , Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (2009)

“The Anguish of Unemployment”

Leahy, R. L. (2009) Unemployment Anxiety, The Behavior Therapist, Vol 32(3), Mar, 2009. pp. 49, 51.

Leahy, R. L. (2009) Facing Unemployment: Ten Steps to Handling Your Unemployment Anxiety

Rampell, C. (May 19, 2011) Many With New College Degree Find the Job Market Humbling

Other Sources: