Unemployed and Ruminating: Seven Steps to Turning it Around

Out of work and Ruminating? Steps you can follow to stop.

Posted Aug 02, 2010

Along with the many other sources of difficulty for the unemployed is what to do with all that "free time". If you are like a lot of people out of work, you probably spend an inordinate amount of time "thinking about things". You sit at home, isolated, and keep playing out scenes in your head--- "Why did this happen to me?" or "I can't believe that I don't have a job" or "This really is lousy". You dwell on it, chewing it over (which is what "ruminating" means). Chewing it over and over-because you can't seem to swallow the reality that's been handed to you.

As Yale psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema has shown, rumination leads to depression and keeps you depressed. People who ruminate withdraw from the real world, often isolating themselves from other people. When you ruminate you are almost always focused on something negative---what is going on in your head. It adds to your sense of helplessness and makes you feel worse.

Why do we ruminate? British psychologists Adrian Wells and Costas Papageorgiou have found that people who ruminate actually think that they will figure things out, solve a problem and avoid making the same mistake in the future. Of course, there may be some truth that ruminating may "give you closure" or lead to solutions---but excessive rumination simply makes you more depressed. So what can you do if you are out of work and find yourself ruminating?

1. Catch yourself ruminating and keep track of it
Simply being aware that "I am ruminating now" can be helpful. It's natural to have some rumination but recognize that this is a problem-not a solution. Write it down, chart it.

2. Examine the costs and benefits of ruminating
What do you think you will get out of this rumination? Will it really help you solve any problems? Will you get closure? What are the costs to you? Is it making you more depressed and angry?

3. Will your rumination lead to any productive action?
Is there any productive action TODAY that you can take? If you lost your job, you can't reverse history. But maybe you can engage in other productive behavior--- exercise, socializing, looking for a job, acquiring new skills. If there is no productive action that your rumination suggests, then set it aside. You can use "rumination time" or "acceptance".

4. Set aside specific times to ruminate-and put it off until then
A lot of this rumination comes up on you-almost sneaking up. OK. Catch it, write it down, and set it aside for later. Say, 4:30 in the afternoon. You can ruminate then. At all other times, write it down.

5. Follow a list of daily activities
Having a schedule and keeping busy is a good antidote to ruminating. You might even schedule activities every hour---and have daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly goals. Keep busy and keep out of your head.

6. Accept that you can't always know why things happen-and you don't need to know

We humans are always looking for answers and for meaning. Forget it. You can't always know exactly why something happened and often things are unfair. Ruminating won't change that. You don't need to know why things happen. You need to do better things for yourself.

7. Accept that life is painful-but you can still take positive action

Even if it is wrong, unfair, unpleasant and awful that you lost your job there are always productive actions that you can take. Make a list of pleasurable activities-or behaviors that will help you grow. Make them your "menu". Then -do them.

To learn more about handling the problems of depression, see my new book (just released on August 1): Beat the Blues before they Beat You: How to Overcome Depression