Joyce Marter Featured On WGN Radio With Rob Hart: Dealing With The Holidays When Unemployed

Joyce Marter, LCPC, was interviewed by Rob Hart on WGN Radio 720, discussing the additional stress that unemployment and underemployment can have on the already stressful holiday season. 

Dealing with the Holidays when Unemployed

The holidays are stressful times for many, and the additional stress of unemployment can exacerbate the usual holiday issues of dealing with family, finances, and travel.Financial stress and the subsequent need to scale way back on gifts is an issue we are hearing a lot this year at Urban Balance. Whether unemployed or underemployed–finances are a huge stressor for many.

Financial stress can exacerbate:

  • Relationship issues (pre-existing communication or other problems)
  • Anxiety (worries, fears, panic)
  • Depression (feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, low self-esteem)

People (especially men) often associate their value or worth with their job, career or income. The loss of a job or unemployment can cause low self self esteem and a poor sense of self (who am I if I am not my position at work?)

These are the worries and concerns we are hearing from our clients at Urban Balance:

  • Feelings of shame or embarrassment. There is a tendency to want to wrack up the credit cards and cause yourself more stress down the road to avoid the shame of money being tight due to unemployment.
  • Fear of disappointing others, especially the kids or your partner.
  • Feelings of inadequacy. We live in a consumer based, materialistic society that places value on “stuff.” This can cause us to feel really badly about ourselves when the funds are low.

Our thoughts often determine our feelings, so in order to feel better, you can change your thinking:

For example, some people who are not able to buy gifts due to unemployment might have negative thoughts or beliefs about themselves such as “I am a failure,” and “I am incompetent.”

Instead of beating yourself up with negative thoughts, be kind to yourself with thoughts such as, “That this is not my fault, the economy is tough, and my loved ones love me for me and not my presents.” Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend or somebody you love.

Be proactive by doing these things:

  1. Be direct and honest with your loved ones (including the kids) that holiday gifts are going to be different this year. Sometimes hardship can be an opportunity for perspective, growth and learning the value of money that can encourage a spirit of gratitude for what you do have (your health, your family, etc.). Come up with new traditions together, such as volunteering or doing charity work as a family or spending time together sledding, baking, making cards or decorations, etc.
  2. Reduce the number of people you are going to give to by telling people not to give you gifts this year to avoid the pressure of reciprocating.
  3. Be creative about gifts that cost little or nothing like: offering your services (babysitting to shoveling), spending quality time with loved ones (go to the lights at the zoo and other free events around the city), express your love through a meaningful letter or poem, make homemade gifts like cookies or a scrapbook, regift unopened gifts that were given to you, plan a “clothing swap” or “cookie exchange party” with friends rather than giving gifts, offer personal lessons (teach what you know—piano, knitting, how to make your famous chili, ) etc. Even send e-cards rather than cards by mail. Use holiday money to shop during the after holiday sales and don’t be too proud to buy things second hand—it is a practical way to reduce expenses.

What to remember:

  1. Your worth does not come from your job, your income or your ability to give gifts. Your worth comes from within and no job loss or other event can take that away.
  2. This is not your fault. Barring that you did anything extreme to either lose your job or not seek a new one, this is not your fault. This is a tough economy, many people are unemployed, and you are not alone. So, let go of guilt and come to a place of acceptance.
  3. This is temporary. This too shall pass. You will find another job and you will be able to give gifts again. You can make it up to people when you are back on your feet.

Hard times can either drive people apart or bring them closer together–it all depends on how you respond to the stress. View this difficult time as an opportunity to focus less on the “stuff” and more on the relationships and spending quality time together.

If you are feeling down about the holidays or unemployment, get support. Talk to your friends or family or even a professional counselor or therapist (contact

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