So, you lost your job in the economic downturn. What now?

The first important step may be admitting to yourself and others that you have negative feelings associated with unemployment — that you are, yes, stressed.

That was some of the advice given Monday in a Central Piedmont Community College workshop called “Balancing Life and Stress During Job Loss.” The workshop was part of a daylong employment conference at CPCC’s Harris campus in west Charlotte.

With the nation’s unemployment rate at 8.1 percent (13.4 percent for African Americans), organizers said the conference was designed to match anxious jobseekers — or those worried about losing their employment — with college and local resources.

CPCC has seen a 10 percent increase in enrollment this spring over last year, with much of the gain coming in “Corporate and Continuing Education” courses, which often attract mid-career workers.

The conference on Monday included sessions on resume writing, entrepreneurship, managing finances and starting new careers. About 570 people registered, but fewer than 300 had arrived by early afternoon on a cold, wet day.

Leonard Saxton was one who did. Laid off last year after 13 years at Bank of America, Saxton, a computer programmer, now finds himself unemployed for the first time in 17 years.

“With any kind of loss there are psychological aspects that you have do deal with and be honest with yourself about,” he told others attending the stress workshop.

To keep his body and mind occupied, he said, he tries to keep a regular schedule each day and has learned to do various projects.

“You have to do things like that if you feel the blues coming on,” he said. “You pretty much have to have a virtual job.”

Workshop leader Quinn Lacy advised attendees to turn off their televisions, which seem to blast nothing but bad economic news.

“We’re in a state of economic turmoil,” she said. “There’s nothing happy anymore. I can’t recall the last time I saw something happy on TV.”

Lacy flashed a chart on a projection screen showing that 40 percent of unemployed people say they experience some level of psychological stress. There is a good reason for that, she explained.

She flashed another chart showing how most Americans spend their time. Nearly 40 percent of the pie was taken up by work. Much smaller slices went to family, friends and social events.

When a worker is laid off, Lacy said, a large part of that person’s identity is temporarily lost. And that disruption, she said, can lead to stress and strained relationships.
She and fellow workshop leader Jenny Guidotti offered some advice:

Don’t beat yourself up: It’s probably not your fault that you lost your job.

Be honest about your feelings: Negative feelings are normal with unemployment. Understand, however, that feelings are not always rational. You can’t control how you feel, but you can control how you react to those feelings.

Stay connected: Don’t let jobless stress make you neglect relationships. Make quality time a priority for those closest to you.

Set aside harmful pride: Accept help when it’s offered. Let friends know that you are available for odd jobs. Don’t be afraid to express your needs to your partner or significant people in your life.

Get exercise and eat right: This does not mean joining an expensive gym. Get out and walk or plant a garden. One attendee said he found it liberating when he cut back his cable television package to bare bones. He now spends more time outside with his wife, he said.

Stay flexible: The current recession is severe. Don’t assume you will land similar work in the same town, or even the same state. Finding a new job might mean moving far from Charlotte. Consider other jobs or careers you might pursue.

Don’t procrastinate: Tackle tough tasks quickly and get them done. Unpleasant chores hanging over your head can affect your mood.

Watch your budget: Get ahead of financial problems. Let creditors know before you fall behind that you are unemployed. Look for ways to trim monthly spending and find inexpensive ways to spend time with friends and family.

Set small goals: Don’t assume you must fix everything at once. Start with the small stuff and find inexpensive ways to reward yourself.

Give back to the community: Find something you care about and volunteer your services. “When you are doing something out of the goodness of your heart, it makes you feel good about yourself,” Lacy said. It’s also a good way to hear about job openings or prove your skills to a perspective employer.

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