Advice with job hunting and careers can range from application tips to dealing with unemployment, and this falls into the latter category. It’s about you, an unemployed person, having to deal with the negative consequences of not having a job. We know it’s pretty crap and we want to help.

This has all come about because The Prince’s Trust recently released the results of a study, and found that anxiety and debilitating depression are most common among unemployed teenagers and young adults. The truly worryingly statistic is that 52% of the unemployed feel anxious about everyday situations.

We covered dealing with depression last year, but anxiety is different, and if anything, more common. We turned to Jeremy Slaughter, a qualified clinical psychologist who deals with those who experience anxiety and have anxiety disorders. “I try to translate the technical language into something more understandable and comprehensible,” he tells us – which is great, because it’s much easier to understand.

What’s the difference between anxiety and depression?

Picture this: a big slippery slope with a hole at the bottom (bear with us); the big difference between depression and anxiety is where you are in this picture. Depression being in the hole and “is about being stuck, and feeling low. You might feel trapped and struggle to get out, you lose perspective and even if you try to get out, you keep sliding back down,” Jeremy explains.

What is anxiety? Anxiety is the fear of losing what you have and ending up without the things you need; like having anxiety about not having any purpose in life, or being excluded. Back to the slope, anxiety is like climbing up that slippery slope, with a fear that you’re going to slide down into the pit. “This is how they are related,” Jeremy says. “The slope is related to the pit, and if you’re stuck on the slope, then you’re further down in life that you’d like to be, and don’t want to fall into the pit.”

Anxiety happens when you’re facing a crisis in you’re life. “It’s absolutely natural,” Jeremy assures us. “We evolved to be people who needed anxiety, because it tells us to pay attention to things that are dangerous and solve those problems that cause us harm.”

You’re at the most stressful time in your life

If you’re feeling anxious right now then get this: you’re the norm. “The period of being 16-25 is the most stressful time in your life, and that’s the good news,” he said. “There’s loads of studies to show that stress levels decline over your life span, and this period is the most stressful. It’s normal to feel anxiety at this age.”

Why? Because you’re facing a load of changes and meeting needs that used to be met by your mum, or family, or grandparents. Jeremy says there are ‘five needs’ we have in this age period, and being unemployed means a lot of these needs aren’t met.

The need for support and relationships. The need to get your own space and have control of that. The need to be good at stuff and master your skills. The need to have a role in life to fit into society and belong. The need to become an independent achiever.

“It makes you feel anxious if you don’t have a role – in ancient times you’d get chucked out of the tribe if you didn’t have a role! So you have five needs not being met, you have no support from work, no control over finances, no sense of being good at stuff, no ‘role’ you’re fulfilling, and no achieving. So of course you’re anxious.”

Anxiety symptoms

Are you frantically trying to work out what’s going on with your body and if you have anxiety disorder? There are physical symptoms, some of which are programmed into us. “Things like rapid heart rate, sweating, nervousness, restlessness, dryness of the mouth, difficulty swallowing, shaky legs and tremors – this is like adrenaline pumping through the system to keep us ready to ‘face danger’,” explains Jeremy.

When that adrenalin is pumping around your body, it changes the way you think, and you become very vigilant. “That’s the whole point of anxiety,” Jeremy adds. “You don’t know exactly where the danger is coming from but you’re watching out for it. So when anything sudden appears in your vision or something happens, you focus on it and it makes it very difficult to focus your attention on what you’re supposed to be doing.” Does that ring any bells?

When you’re in this state, you start noticing things you wouldn’t normally see as threatening – like not wanting to leave the house. Okay, so before you didn’t mind, but now you might think someone will ask you why you’re out, if you’ve got a job yet… and it won’t feel nice at all.

You’re trying to problem solve ahead of you and think about the threatening situations; what if you don’t get that interview? Or run out of money? “It’s instinctive to avoid things you fear and avoid nasty situations, because it’s natural not to go towards things that you find scary.”

How to deal with anxiety

“The big thing you’ve got to focus on, is to try and achieve your objectives. Anxiety becomes serious if it stops you achieving your objectives. And if your objective is to get a job and anxiety is stopping you getting one, then it becomes a problem.”

Jeremy explains three clear steps on dealing with anxiety:

1. REAPPRAISAL. Have you got a good reason to be anxious? And if so, how reasonable is it? “If you’re thinking okay, I’m feeling anxious because I’m unemployed and I’m never going to get a job, is that reasonable?” Jeremy says. Check that it is in proportion and think carefully about whether you are being rational or irrational.

2. FOCUS ON THE NOW. “Don’t leap ahead into the future,” Jeremy advises. “Take the analogy of a journey – instead of gazing at the horizon, the important thing is to focus on the ground straight in front of you. Appreciate what you have now.” Reassure yourself that you’re not in immediate danger, because if you were, you’d be frightened, which is different – fear focuses the mind powerfully on what needs to be done right now. “Focus on the jobs you need to do. A great technique is mindfulness mediation (download the Headspace app for free), it’s all about being in the moment and realising that right in that moment, you’re safe, clothed and fed, and you’re okay.”

3. PROBLEM SOLVING. Anxiety is a signal that we need to do something to avoid danger in the future, so you need to think about what you can do and make sensible plans. “In effect, it’s not avoiding the things which need to be done like going to the job centre, or writing your CV, or ringing people up,” Jeremy adds. This is the third step in dealing with anxiety, and is made a lot easier if you’ve done the reappraisal and focusing steps.

Hayley Minn

Anxiety attacks, social anxiety and one final tip

We’ve done our research, and we know what’s troubling you. An anxiety attack, as Jeremy explains, is a moment of intense anxiety made worse by sensations in the body, and people confuse these sensations with real danger. In these situations, you feel you have to sort out the problem immediately, and lose control. It’s a vicious circle, and these initial feelings of anxiety can lead into social anxiety, and worrying about the things and people around you.

The good news? “Anxiety tends to go down as your job prospects increase; you can be reassured that the anxiety will probably go away when your situation is more stable,” Jeremy says.

“Don’t spend too much time focusing on the anxiety, focus on your goals when you can and getting on with it. Make use of your family and support group. People who have support from people tend to be much less anxious in these situations and that’s because they have resources to draw on. It’s important for people to realise that actually humans are not designed to operate on their own. Find somebody you can confide in and talk it through with them, it’s okay to ask for help because it’s actually a sign of strength that you can ask for it and get support because part of your resource kit is to draw on your friends, relatives and family who you’ve got good relationships with. Now’s the time to ask yourself – how can they help me?”

So keep going – it gets better from here and remember, it’s completely normal to be feeling like this right now.

If you liked this, you may also like…

What to do when you’re young, unemployed and feeling depressed

What to do if unemployment is making you depressed

Is unemployment affecting your friendships?

Photo Credit: No Crop Photo (Creative Commons)