8 Ways To Make Being Unemployed Slightly Less Awful

Thoughts from a 30 year old who has been unemployed for a year and a half

I never thought I would be in this position. When I graduated from university, I thought, worst-case scenario, that it would take me six months to find a job. Oh how wrong I was. Through the highs and lows of job applications and rejections I have learned a few things that have made day-to-day life a bit less awful, which I want to share with you.

1. Ask yourself — what does feeling productive mean to you?

There has been a lot of debate about the pressure to feel ‘productive’ during lockdown. I understand both sides of this debate, but for me, productivity doesn’t have to be a large overwhelming pressure.

Ask yourself — on days you feel good (or at least better than average), what did you do during that day? It could be applying for jobs, making a nice meal, talking to a friend, watching something interesting, learning a new skill, tidying the house, going outside, doing exercise, or starting a task you’ve been putting off.

The best thing is that there are no wrong answers. Sometimes lying in bed and watching Netflix all day is the most productive thing you can do for your mental health. (Not going to lie — that was me last week). Assessing what makes YOU feel productive is what is most important.

2. Have routine ‘scaffolding’

Once again, this is very unique to your circumstances, but I have found that having a loose routine makes a giant difference to my mental health.

I still wake up using an alarm from Monday — Friday, and I get out of bed and have a shower and eat breakfast. I make myself a coffee and then sit at my computer to read the morning’s news. Every morning follows this pattern. I try not to watch Netflix during the day (except when I feel it’s best for my mental health, see point 1), although I usually watch one episode of a show while I eat lunch. In the late afternoon I try to get outside or do some exercise, and I generally go to bed at a similar time each night.

This is far from a rigorous schedule where every hour of my day is accounted for, but rather a loose routine that ‘scaffolds’ my day. A strict routine that I don’t end up sticking to generally makes me feel worse.

3. Notice your negative thoughts and actively redirect them

This is a big one for me. I can very easily get into a negative thought spiral where thoughts and feelings of hopelessness, unworthiness and despair are my constant companions. I compare myself to friends and acquaintances my age who own houses and have careers.

Worse still, I compare myself to imaginary versions of my present self who made different decisions in the past. I still haven’t worked out how to not do this, but I am getting better at noticing it.

When I notice that my thoughts have become negative, I actively try to think of things that make me happy. I think of what I love most about my friends and family. I think about my parent’s dog. I think of specific happy events in the past, not to compare to the present, but simply to surround myself with the happiness of the memory.

4. Make yourself a tiny checklist

It doesn’t have to be physical, but I find a paper one most satisfying. Break down tasks into small (really small!) parts. This is different for everyone, but for example my checklist for today was:

  • Write down some dot points for article idea
  • Update my personal insurance details (eugh)
  • Decide what to make for dinner

This list isn’t about writing down every single thing you plan to accomplish today. It’s a way of setting small goals and creating a sense of achievement. Your list might look like:

  • Spend 10 minutes outside
  • Read an article on a topic that interests you
  • Empty the dishwasher

Physically tick each one as you complete it. It’s surprising how much it helps.

5. Go for walks while catching up with people (in person or on the phone)

Sometimes I find it difficult to motivate myself to leave the house. I find it much easier to get outside for a walk when I’m talking to a friend on the phone — this has the added benefit of some social interaction, especially because most of my friends don’t live in the same city as me. Before I know it, I’ve both walked a couple of kilometres and had a nice conversation.

6. Exercise because of determination, not motivation

Motivation generally comes during exercise, not before. I think about motivation as a fairy that flits about and disappears for days and weeks at a time.

I rarely feel motivated to do exercise, but I can feel determined. I can be determined to get off my lazy butt and go for a bike ride. I can be determined to do some yoga or stretching. I can be determined to go for a walk. Don’t wait for the motivation fairy to visit you; she may never come.

This way, it is irrelevant if you don’t feel motivated to exercise, as you’ve already determined that you will. It’s a foregone conclusion. Sometimes, deciding if you will or won’t do exercise is more tiring than actually doing it.

7. Anxiety deep cleaning

This may not be for everyone, but if you get a lot of anxiety like I do, sometimes deep cleaning something in your house while listening to a podcast or audiobook or music can be incredibly soothing.

The primary purpose is not to make the house cleaner — you just clean the smallest things that give you satisfaction. For me, I love scrubbing the black stuff off the bottom of pots and pans with abrasive cleaner. It’s not a job that has to be done, but I find the change from black to silver and shiny very cathartic.

Scrubbing the grout between the bathroom tiles is also very satisfying. If you have or can borrow a power-washer, even better! Add it to your to-do list then go power-wash something!

8. Do you feel guilty watching a lot of Netflix? Multitask with a craft!

I watch a lot of Netflix. I try not to watch much during working hours on weekdays, but pretty much every evening and weekend is spent watching series or movies.

I have found that if I am watching while doing something else, I feel a lot better. I am currently crocheting a blanket, and I tried embroidery a few weeks ago, which was really fun! You could do anything: paint, colour, whittle, make origami, cross-stitch, etc.

At the end of the Netflix-ing, you will have something cool to show for it.

We will get through this, eventually. We’ve just got to cope the best we can in the meantime. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck!

Data Engineer. PhD in Marine Ecology. I love writing, data, science and crafts (not always in that order)

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