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Being out of work can make you feel lost and disconnected, especially if you’re job hunting purely to survive unemployment. To regain a sense of control, shift your viewpoint to purposeful drifting. Now is the time to make the most of your downtime between jobs so you can re-enter the workforce prepared to take charge.

Staying upbeat while you manage your time productively is a challenge. But if you use this time to nourish your body, fortify your mind, and feed your soul, you’ll catch the next wave of your career in the best shape of your life. You’ll have the advantage over someone who spent their downtime panicked, depressed, and focused on fears.

David Peters is a family psychotherapist in San Diego, and much of his work is with people in crisis from workplace harassment, job loss, and life transitions. Peters has counseled hundreds of people through the emotional upheaval of losing a job.

“Many people experience their workplace as a second home,” Peters explains. “We spend so many hours there, giving our best, and often working with others in a team. Whether we like our job or not, it’s a place where we want to ‘belong.’ When we get laid off, it’s easy to take it personally. ‘They don’t want me anymore. I don’t get to be with them.’ Remember that losing a job is a real loss and often results in real grieving, as if someone you know and loved has died. As with all grief, there is a time to indulge and a time to recover. It’s important to acknowledge the loss in order for your brain to process the change. Call the friends and family you need for support, do your crying or fretting or wondering why. Write out all your sadness, bitterness, or fear in a journal. Spend a day being quiet by yourself if you need. And then...be done with it. It’s time to move on.”

Losing a job can lead to vulnerability and depression. The recently unemployed tend to sleep late, eat poorly, and sit alone in the house watching TV or playing video games. If you sink into a funk, says Peters, you can start feeling better by taking some simple but effective actions.

First, dedicate yourself to getting at least 45 minutes of good exercise five days a week. “Exercise will raise your Serotonin levels as much as if you took 20 milligrams of Prozac,” Peters says. “It’s best if you go outdoors in the morning for a fast walk, allowing about 15 minutes without sunglasses. Natural light therapy also helps ward off depression, and keeps your sleep-wake cycle intact.

“Many people who lose their jobs spend a lot of time in anger, cursing at their former employer, the economy, the government, and whoever,” Peters continues. “But anger is not going to help you now. It saps your brain of resources that you need for your current job – looking for your new job. Anger increases your stress, sending cortisol [a stress hormone] into your bloodstream and throughout your body. This actually damages your coronary system and limits your brain’s ability to think creatively. Catch your anger, take a few deep breaths, and shift your thoughts to the positive. For some people this takes practice, but it’s essential. Positive thinkers create more opportunities for themselves and are more likely to see opportunities that others miss.”

Bottom line: the road to recovery is taking responsibility for your future. To make your journey back to work realistic, separate yourself from your circumstances. Try not to define yourself by your employment status. Devote this downtime to you, and view these suggestions as a strategy to build yourself up.

Candice Reed is co-author of Thank You for Firing Me! For more articles and ideas, check out thankyouforfiringme.org

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