The impact of job loss on the mind & body

COVID-19 has changed the world in many ways – including how you work. Millions of Americans have filed jobless claims as a result of the pandemic. Families and individuals are now adjusting to changes in employment that can be stressful for everyone.

“The loss of income puts financial strain on a person and the family unit, creating an added stressor to life,” said Catherine Langdon, Licensed Professional Counselor and Mental Health Clinician at ThedaCare Behavioral Health in Menasha. “Stress releases cortisol in the body – often known as the ‘stress hormone,’ which can lead to physical and mental health issues.”

Everyone in the family is impacted by unemployment in different ways and at different times.

“Everyone processes si-tuations differently,” said Sharon Rink, MD, a Ped-iatrician with ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy. “Most kids do not have the capacity to understand a parent being jobless and its impact. Parents need to be sensitive to that fact and show their children more support when out of work.”

It begins with adults recognizing how joblessness might affect them personally – both mentally and physically.

“Financial strain can influence a parent’s ability to be patient with their children as well as their overall engagement in parenting – spending meaningful time with kids, being emotionally available to them, helping children with schoolwork, and maintaining healthy and appropriate discipline,” Langdon said. “The stress may present itself in various ways.”

Dr. Rink wants parents to take time to cope, and recognize changes in their children.

“Emotionally, a parent will probably go through a grieving process – denial, anger, bargaining, and depression – before coming to terms with their new unemployed reality,” she said. “While that process is taking place, younger children may throw tantrums, become irritable or physically aggressive and more socially isolated, or regress into bed-wetting or other behaviors atypical for their age.”

She added a child’s reaction will vary based on their age.

“For an older child, they may understand un-employment, but they see the financial loss more from the perspective of ‘how does this affect me?’” Dr. Rink noted. “For example, teenagers are more apt to grieve the loss of trendy new clothes, a new video game, a car, or an upgraded smartphone.”

Teens have a heightened sense of security, so pediatricians advise parents to reassure them that the family will get through the pandemic together despite limited funds.

Langdon noted that impaired sleep and difficulty concentrating are signs that joblessness could be impacting your mental health. Here are other red flags:

Mood swings.

Irritability.

Anxiety (excessive worry, panic attack, restlessness, obsessive thoughts).

Depression (social with-drawal, loss of interest/motivation, crying spells, feeling “numb”).

“Over time, stress can negatively impact the body’s immune system,” Langdon added. “That means a person may be more at risk for both physical illness and the development or exacerbation of mental health issues.”

She noted the ways your body might be impacted by unemployment:

Headaches.

Hypertension.

Stomachache/digestion issues.

Weight gain or a loss of appetite.

Experts say addressing the impacts of job loss from the beginning, can help put you in a better position to persevere through the situation more healthfully.   

“It may be easier to allow unhealthy behaviors and negative symptoms to occur initially, however the longer you wait to address it, the harder it is to change because you have started to build a habit, which will take time to unlearn and replace,” Langdon added. “Additionally, symptoms of anxiety, anger, and depression can worsen over time, and when not managed well, it can have a negative impact on your physical health.”

ThedaCare experts recom-mend these stress man-agement strategies to regain a sense of purpose, routine and community often found in the workplace.

Practice self-care daily. Parents need to take care of themselves before helping their children. Not only eat healthy and model good lifestyle habits, also exercise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. Consider developing distress tolerance skills, which include self-soothing using your five senses and distracting yourself from negative feelings.

Get into a routine. Build a new structure into your day. Set aside time to be productive at home with tasks such as chores, home schooling and budgeting with a reduced income. Balance that time with some relaxation and fun with activities such as playing games, making a meal together and watching a movie. Finally, schedule for each family member to have alone time to reset and reduce overstimulation of noise and social interactions.

Practice gratitude. Regu-larly take time to focus on the things that you have or that are going well. Appreciate how your basic needs are being met in the present. It shifts your focus from what you lost or desire and do not have.

Give back. Look into virtually volunteering at a local nonprofit. It will give you a sense of purpose and it might lead to new friendships that will give you a sense of community.

 

Develop a new skill set. Engage in a new hobby that brings you joy and gives you a sense of accomplishment. It can boost your mood and also develop a new capability, giving you a sense of control at a time when you might feel powerless.