11 ways to keep sane while unemployed

As working creative—which in plain English means that I am an artist who makes a livable wage—becoming unemployed is inevitable. It happens to the purists, skating from one freelancing gig to another. It happens to sellouts (like me) who took (what we thought were) more financially secure desk jobs, and then one day, discovered those jobs were given to cheaper writers in India. 

Of course, this problem doesn’t just apply to creative types. I don’t need to tell you that pretty much everyone is on shaky ground with employment these days. Long-term loyalty is a thing of the past.

I’d say only half of surviving without a job involves jugging the “I have no money, what do I do?” question. The other half is adjusting from going full speed at the day job …

… then coming to a full stop when that job stops.

You. At home. Only the cat, Facebook, and Netflix keeping you company.

There’s an old maxim: You can either have time or money. And while unemployed, you have time. Lots and lots of time. The only way to not go crazy is to, in short, keep busy.

So, what are some good ways to make use of the sudden deluge of free time? After practice, I’ve honed my unemployment skills to the following list:

1.     Panic

I’m serious. Panic. Succumb to it immediately. After all, your future is a thousand times more uncertain today than it was yesterday, while you were still employed.

In fact, don’t just panic, but succumb to a world-imploding warp core breech. Panic gloriously. Dramatically. Flamboyantly. Do the most glorious job you’ve ever done at conjuring every doomsday scenario. “What if I never-ever work again?” and “What if I catch cancer without healthcare?” and “What if I can’t feed the cat?” and “What if I have to move in with my parents?”

"Friendship," by Hartwig HDK, on Creative Commons 

"Friendship," by Hartwig HDK, on Creative Commons 

Bellow all these questions immediately. Get them out of your system. If you push them down, they’ll only grow. As you rant, grab a pen or a keyboard (or borrow a patiently wise friend as a sounding board) and get them in the open.

After you’re done (or are too exhausted to continue), look at the list (or let your friend speak). This is what’s known as “confronting your fears.” Analyze every one of your choose-your-own-adventure routs to destruction. Cross out the ones that are absolutely ridiculous. For the remaining somewhat rational fears, brainstorm an escape rout. This will help you plan for the uncertain future, and if needed, pull in help from other resources. (Your patient and wise friend might be able to help.)

2.     Eat well and exercise

You’ve heard it before: healthy body, healthy mind. Eating good servings of healthy food does a marvelous job of keeping depression at bay, and maintains your can-do stamina during this uncertain time. Spinach. Kale. Leafy greens that give an added boost your psyche. (Note: I’m writing this while chugging a beer. But had greens for dinner.) Exercise—even if it’s just a brisk walk—also does wonders to burn off random adrenaline rushes … such as that healthy panic attack you triggered in Step 1.

Lottery Scheduling, by Steve Hanna, on Creative Commons.

Lottery Scheduling, by Steve Hanna, on Creative Commons.

3.     Keep a schedule

Regardless of how much you hated your old job, it’s disorienting and depressing not getting up and going to work. Creating a new schedule, including maintaining a consistent wake-up time, helps you combat the vortex. The next few ideas are activities you can do to fill your days.

4.     Look for work

No-brainer, right? Your current job is looking for a job. Carve out two to six hours each day, to do this. Apply to every job opening. Draw recruiters who are actively looking for warm bodies by chucking your resume on sites like Monster.com and update your LinkedIn profile.

Sign up for career networking groups on LinkedIn, Meetup, or Facebook and attend their events. Face-to-face meetings with resources are more affective than your resume getting lost in an HR database. And while you’re at it, ask friends and former coworkers if they have leads. It’s always easier getting your foot in the door when you’re saying “Hey Carl, can you help me?” rather than sending the, “Dear Sir, do you have any work?” blind email.

And while you’re at it, now is a good time to …

5.     Pursue your dreams

Those things that distracted you while pursuing the 9-5 workday. That you wished you could do, if only you didn’t have to work? Remember your excuses? Like, you couldn’t take risks because you feared losing the security of a full-time job?

"Inspiration of a Lucid Dreamer," by Hartwig HTK, on Creative Commons

"Inspiration of a Lucid Dreamer," by Hartwig HTK, on Creative Commons

Guess what? Your fears are now all moot … because, well, you’re already out of a job. Now that you’re unemployed, you now have freakishly abundant amounts of time to pursue those dreams. Or, at the very least, start researching how to put those dreams into place. During the day, even. Without having to guiltily sneak away from your desk to place that call in an abandoned conference room.

6.     Volunteer

What a great way to get out of the house. The feel-good mojo of contributing to the community distracts you from those panicky unemployment fears you listed in Step 1. Your miles are tax-deductible. Plus, you’re also gaining new skills. Stuff you can add to your resume to plug the employment gap.

You might unearth something fantastic during those volunteer hours. Like a real way to pursue and gain skills for the dreams you listed in Step 5. I like telling the story of an acquaintance who got a second job waitressing to earn money for a house down payment. After a spell, she realized she was much more excited about interacting with the customers, than she was with her desk job. She ended up scrapping her homeowner plans and went back to school to become a social worker.

Similar events could direct you to your new path as you volunteer. You never know.

7.     Update your skills

To make yourself more marketable for the next job, take a hard look at your skillset and see what gaps need filling. Especially if you’ve been at the same employer for years. The Unemployment folks can point you towards resources. Hit them up for the free ones.

8.     Become a cleaning/repairing maniac

Look around the house. Assess all the small annoying tasks you’ve been putting off, and do them. Because, babe, you now have time. Lots and lots of time.

Clean house, and I mean, do a deep clean. Vacuum cobwebs out of corners. Wash and iron your curtains. Clean out your junk drawer. Scan and organize all those receipts from your old taxes. Wash and vacuum your car. Darn your socks. Brush your cat. Floss your teeth. Stop rolling your eyes at me.

Like Steps 2, 3, and 6, this step gives you something to channel your energy towards instead of letting fretting about your future consume you. Your house is also going to be obnoxiously clean. Your friends will admonish you to relax. The cat will hate you. Your dentist will praise you.

"The Disrupting Influence," on Creative Commons

"The Disrupting Influence," on Creative Commons

9.     Take trips

Nothing elaborate. Just something that gets you out of your staring-at-the-walls routine. Go to a place you daydreamed about visiting, while you were still at work.

"Vacationing on a Dime," by JD Hancock on Creative Commons

"Vacationing on a Dime," by JD Hancock on Creative Commons

Tired of eating breakfast at home? Go to a new coffee house and buy a cheap house coffee. (Bring your laptop so you can keep job hunting.) Lounge in the park you always driving past. Visit your parents, for Pete’s sake.

If you have a car, give yourself the luxury of driving to the beach or the mountains during a workday, feeling superior to everyone else, stuck working on such a glorious day.

10. Find free stuff to do

This might be easier for some folks than others. In my city, it’s easy to be poor. So much is out in the open. Concerts in the square at noon. A theater troop performs free Shakespearian plays. The library has passes to the local museums, not to mention all those books you finally have time to read. One day, Facebook announced a department store was giving free cookies (good ones) to the first 50 customers. Keep your eyes open. 

And while you’re having all these adventures, remember, that this free time will soon be over because …

11. You will find that new job