How to Avoid the Negative Psychological Effects of Unemployment

If you listen to the everyday moans and groans of people with jobs, you could be forgiven for thinking that work is bad for your health. What research shows though is that it is actually unemployment that can have the most detrimental impact on your psychological well-being (as well as on your bank balance).

Primarily, we work to ‘make a living’ so that we achieve the standard of living that we desire. Did you know however that work fulfils a number of your other psychological needs? According to a study by Jahoda, there are five of these:


Time Structure - work provides a framework for structuring your day

Social Contact – work enables you to widen social networks and benefit from social experiences

Common Goals – work challenges us by presenting tasks, activities and targets that need to be achieved

Status – work gives us an ‘acceptable’ social status in society

Collective Purpose – work provides a sense of meaning


This brings me on the why unemployment can be so damaging to our well-being. In situations where we are out of work, many of us may struggle to impose replacements for these five latent benefits.  For example, it is often the case that when we are unemployed, we struggle to structure our day and may go a whole day or a whole week where we have not had any meaningful social contact with others.

Continual knockbacks from the hundreds of job applications we are writing add to our feeling of despair and, if we are not careful, this can overwhelm us and stop us striving for the goal of employment.

This combined with a severely reduced income, means that we are facing real uncertainty about the future. As a result, we can quickly drift into a state of depression or experience other negative effects on our mental health that impact on our whole existence.


There is light at the end of the tunnel though because there are clear actions that you can take during a period of unemployment that will help you to avoid being sucked into this spiral of negative feeling. This will preserve your sense of well-being and give you hope during these challenging times.


1.       Volunteer for something or take up a new leisure activity with others

This will primarily help you to develop new social contacts and avoid the isolation that can be so damaging for humans.  Volunteering in particular is extremely beneficial, as whilst it may be unpaid, it may help you to find a new purpose to work towards as well as a structure to some of your day. Giving something back to society is also a worthy way of spending your time and will give you a renewed sense of social status. Finally, volunteering is an excellent addition to your CV or resume and may enable you to experience new types of work that strengthen your overall employability in the long-term.


2.       Try to set yourself achievable goals every day

At the end of every day, write down the top three things that you want to achieve the next day. When you wake up, work out how you will structure your day to achieve these things and write down a schedule. Make sure that the goals are realistic and something that you are fully in control of though or there is a risk that you won’t be able to accomplish them. As you tick off each goal from your list, you will develop a real sense of achievement that spurs you on to the next goal.


3.       Share your feelings with other people and get the support you need

It is easy during unemployment to become despondent, frustrated and lonely. Being able to share these feelings and get emotional support from people who care about you is really important. If you do not have friends and family that understand the position you are in, consider reaching out to other support groups in the community and make contact with other unemployed people who are going through exactly the same thing as you.


4.       Practice positive thinking

This may be unconventional advice, but you control your mind and if you can stay positive then this is going to help you immensely. At the end of every day, write down or tell a loved one three great things that happened to you during that day. This can be absolutely anything that was positive, no matter how small it might seem. The more you practice focusing on these positive episodes, the better you will become at thinking positively and avoiding letting negative thoughts plague your mind.