Health is complicated and multifaceted. In my article about having a healthy Thanksgiving, I focus not on food but on activities that you can do to maintain your physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health. Being healthy is not about the holidays though, it is about the habits that you form for the daily grind. As I write this, I am 26 and just starting to care about my health. I am no longer a child and my health is going to determine my quality of life in the years to come. I am also strongly affected by the downturn in the economy. I am a part-time babysitter, making less than minimum wage. I am supplementing my income with writing for AC and mystery shopping. I am basically unemployed and trying to float on odd jobs. Honestly, I am so impacted by the economic downturn that friends have been begging me for months to apply for food stamps. I just did and they got back to me the next day with benefits because they couldn’t see how I could survive on so little income. So, what do I do to maintain my health?
When unemployed or underemployed, you do not necessarily notice the strain on your mental health. Working hard to get a job becomes an all-consuming preoccupation. Learn to schedule your time for job hunting. Before I landed my babysitting jobs I spent about 8 hours a day looking for work, writing resumes, filling out job applications and writing for Associated Content. I did so 6 days a week. If you allow yourself to become more preoccupied than that you will eventually see the effects on your mental health. You may think that you need to spend every waking moment looking for employment. The truth is that if you can’t find a job working 48 hours a week, you are not likely to find one by pushing it a few more and draining yourself. You need to be in good mental shape when you do finally get that job interview. When you are not actively looking for a job, don’t think about it. Think about other things, interests, politics, family, goals, dreams, non-financial stresses. Try to only think about employment during the time allotted to it.
So, what can you do with that extra time? If you have a spouse and/or children, take some time to engage in meaningful conversation. Talk is cheap, and it is good for you. Ask open-ended questions and try to cultivate an open nature for listening to responses, opinions and stories. Play an intellectual game. Read a book by yourself or with your family. The average adult does not read a single book in a year. If you have television access, choose something that engages the brain. Even the news can be mentally stimulating if you use it to springboard a discussion. A good replacement for regular TV is ted.com. Make it a habit to develop your mental health every day.
When you are unemployed, you may not be able to get the medical help you need. I am notorious for not seeking the medical attention that I need. Despite this, I am learning some tips to maintain my health at its current state at least. Many of us have not developed good habits for maintaining our physical health. When you are unemployed, time is a commodity that you have a lot of, too much in fact. Outside of the 48 hours per week spent on vocational pursuits, you can spend some time building good physical habits. Most of us know of a couple of things that we should be doing for our physical health but never developed the habit. Take this time to work at doing these things. For me it is eating breakfast, taking vitamins and brushing my teeth. I know, I know, that’s gross but I’m being honest here. You need to be honest with yourself, find those habits and develop them. Then when you are employed and have less time again, you will have some new good habits to help keep your health afloat.
Physical health also involves being active. If you are doing most of your job search and preparation in front of a computer screen you need to get out some more. If you have pets or children, take them for a walk. You don’t need a gym membership to be physically active. If you are not used to doing much housework, volunteer for some of the more physically strenuous jobs. Some house maintenance tasks need to be done so infrequently that you may not notice them until they are done. For me this was washing the walls.
You can also work out from the comfort of your own home. The Internet is full of free websites that can help you get started. Always warm-up, stretch, work-out, and cool down. I’m currently working on the 100 push-up challenge. It is a simple enough program so when I get regular employment I can keep it up, and challenging enough that I feel like I am working towards something great. I started being able to do 1 good push-up and now I can do 13.
Food is naturally an important factor in physical health. Take this time to select foods that are not fast but take some time and effort. Many times cooking a large dish that will last several days is actually less expensive than buying a lot of individual meals. Do some Internet searching for good budget meals and try out some new recipes.
Emotional & Spiritual Health:
The line between emotional and spiritual health can often get blurred. What each means to you is a very personal thing. Being unemployed can drain on both health states because of the fear, shame, and despair that often accompanies unemployment. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if you are spending 48 hours every week doing everything you can to get a job, and you still don’t have one, it is not your fault. In these economic times, people with more skills, experience, and knowledge than you are also struggling with employment. There just isn’t that much out there. Developing good emotional and spiritual health habits during the stress of job hunting may seem counter-intuitive but it is necessary.
Think about it this way though. If your job was to hire a new employee, and instead of the usual 50 applications you had 150, it would become that much harder to choose. If you get an interview, you want to look like someone who has maintained their health, who is unlikely to get sick, or have an emotional or mental breakdown. Your future employer wants someone who has not let their skills atrophy. They want someone who is pleasant, joyful and at peace.
Being pleasant, joyful, and at peace are the realm of emotional and spiritual health. If you have a faith tradition that you connect with, now is a good time to get more involved. Most Americans identify with being Christian, and yet most Americans only go to church for Christmas and maybe Easter. All religious traditions have a lot to offer, so take some time at least one day a week to reconnect. If you are already involved, use some of your free time to become more involved. Joining a Bible study for instance will have the added benefit of enhancing your mental health. If Christianity or your childhood faith is not something you can connect with right now, take some time to explore your own spirituality and tradition in everyday life. Try to see the beauty around you even in your depressing situation.
Emotionally it is easy to feel down and to project that onto others. It is important not to stuff your emotions or to deny that they exist. Dealing with emotions is really the only way to become an emotionally healthy person. Instead of stuffing them, or spewing them at others, try writing them. Get all the negativity that you are thinking and feeling out onto a blank page. You can then get rid of it or keep it. Some people find it cathartic to burn the paper afterward. I personally can’t bear to truly part with it, but getting it out helps. Then, when you have emptied yourself of all that negativity, follow your mother’s advice. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” This will be extremely difficult at first, especially if you are living with people. The people you live with have gotten used to you being a particular way, they have grown to expect it, they have grown comfortable in their own coping mechanisms, your change may cause a period of unrest socially and emotionally but it is well worth it for everyone involved in the end.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be hard. Take advantage of the extra time you have, to not just maintain but develop free or cheap healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
Side note: I am relatively new to AC. I don’t want to seem like I am begging for page views but I really would like feedback. If you have read this article and have an opinion, please let me know so that I can become a better writer. Thanks for your time