There’s a old Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times!’ Why a curse? Because ‘un-interesting times’ would mean stability, predictability, security, safety – things which are in mighty short supply right now.
The present times are really rather excessively ‘interesting’. I don’t know about you, but I am starting to hear about job losses through the grapevine of friends of friends. I heard about one fifty-eight year old woman who, on hearing she was being laid off, got down on her hands and knees to beg for her job. Not nice.
A secure job not only gives us the money we need to survive, it also meets a number of other vital human needs.
For millions of people, losing your job means you lose a whole load of other things besides money. You can lose access to regular human interaction. You can lose the feeling of safety and security. You can lose status (real or perceived). You may no longer feel part of something worthwhile, something larger than yourself. And you may lose the sense of control that routine and having enough money gives us. For better or worse, many of us define ourselves through our work. Loss of identity can hit just as hard as loss of income. When basic emotional needs are not met, we are at risk of greater psychological problems.
As once solid giant employers topple like a house of cards in a tropical storm, we can expect a rise in the incidence of mental health problems across society. This isn’t a sudden new realization. The connection between job loss and the incidence of physical and mental illness was already being flagged up a quarter of a century ago.
Fears that the recession may lead to an increase in domestic violence as families and couples struggle with the stresses of the economic situation have already prompted government action in an attempt to stave off this and other related social problems.
Perhaps the best way to survive these storms emotionally is to be aware of the emotional needs your job was supplying and to look for ways to meet those same needs outside the arena of work. If your needs are being adequately met, you can handle most things. The wonderful thing about us human beings is our adaptability. Meaning, connection, status, routine – they can all be found outside of paid work.
And in the words of Bob Dylan, sometimes all we can do is ‘keep on keeping on’.