The upside to unemployment?
If you've recently been handed a pink slip, you likely have a lot of free time on your hands. Once you've got your severance package and health insurance in order, you can use your unemployment to focus on your health—something that can save you a lot of cash in the long run.
With the unemployment rate at a 16-year high, it's important to stay optimistic, says Kenneth Robbins, MD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And keeping up a routine can help: That means waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, making time for exercise and personal improvement, and connecting with others. From setting new fitness goals to whipping up comfort food recipes, here are eight ways to stay healthy while you're out of work.
Log on to improve your memory
Given that you no longer have to worry about your supervisor catching you slacking on the job, start scouring Facebook. You'll be able to do a little networking—and you'll be helping your health. A 2006 study found that staying in touch with family members and old friends can ward off memory loss. And research shows that people with extended social networks tend to live longer.
Use your newfound time to expand your contacts and up your number of online friends. It turns out that time logged on social-networking sites (as long as it’s not too much time) is actually good for you—and it may even help you land your next job.
Set a fitness goal you can really keep
Many cite lack of time as a reason they're not exercising, so now's the perfect opportunity to finally set a fitness goal, whether it's walking three miles a day, training to run a half marathon, or even just getting some use out of that dusty equipment in the basement. If you're struggling to afford your monthly gym rate, you may be able to get a discount or a limited-access pass by talking to your membership coordinator.
Or you can forego the gym and take advantage of more affordable online programs, such as virtual trainers, social networks, or downloadable workout podcasts to motivate yourself (and your friends) to get moving; you can even use Google Docsa free serviceto chart your progress. Get more money-saving fitness tips here.
Lose the weight you never could at work
How many times have breakfast meetings, office snacks, and dinner and drinks with clients gotten in the way of your healthy eating efforts? If your previous job helped you pack on extra weight, use Health.com's mix-and-match meal plan to drop up to 15 pounds in six weeks. Get family or friends involved by acting as a group diet planner and you're likely to have even more long-term success.
Losing weight can also be a big boost to your bank account. The Gold's Gym Fitness Institute found that obese people annually spend $485 more on clothing, $828 on extra plane seats, and $36 more on gas.
Make your house healthier
Do you enter your house through the back door? Researchers at Cornell University found that people who pass through an entryway near the kitchen tend to eat 15% more than those who use the front door. If you're unemployed, use your new time to make over your home using Health.com's Skinny House secrets.
Your home could also be harboring more serious health hazards, like toxic chemicals that can contribute to allergies, irritation, and even asthma risk. Simple swaps like replacing your shower curtain, your bedding, and the litter in your cat's box can make your home a much healthier place. Get more tips for making your home healthier here.
Cook more (healthy) comfort food
If you've recently been laid off, you're probably lusting after some warm, rich comfort food to cheer you up. With these healthy cooking tips, you can make lighter versions of mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and even chocolate brownies. Use your days off to amp up your culinary resume, make more meals from scratch, and experiment with new fruit, vegetable, and whole-grain ingredients. (Serving more meatless entrees will save you money, too.)
Feed your family for less
Now that you’re cooking more, it’s a great time to look at your family’s food budget and see where you might save some money. Preparing your own food every day is already a great start, and if you’re married or have kids, they can benefit as well. Portion out larger homemade meals into handy leftover containers for your family to take to work and school, and prepare more dinners at home, rather than eating at restaurants or getting takeout.
With extra time during the day, scout out cheaper places to buy healthy ingredients, like an out-of-the-way supermarket or a local farmer’s market. If there’s one close to you, consider joining a food co-op or a community-sponsored agriculture program, where your volunteer work will be rewarded with discounted fresh produce.
Invest more time in your relationships
Now more than ever, it’s important to nurture your existing relationships. If you find yourself out of work while your significant other is still employed, you may have to pick up some new household tasks and make sure that you're both being honest about your needs. If you have children, it’s important not to pass your anxieties on to them, as well. “Let your kids know that there have been hard times before, and just like then, you’ll get through this,” Dr. Robbins says. “So many times marriages can fall apart in situations like these, kids can start misbehaving, and everything turns ugly.”
But there's also an upside: If you’ve always wished you could spend more time with your children or aging parents, now is the time to do it. Or if you've wanted to meet new people, try volunteering.
Revamp your job search
Don't narrow your career search unnecessarily, cautions Dr. Robbins. “Think about the range of options you will be comfortable with; you don't want to limit yourself.” Make a list of all the things you didn’t like about your past job and look for new positions that eliminate those negatives. Take advantage of the free advice at Freecareeradvice.com and the U.S. Small Business Administration's Web site, or learn a new skill by checking out books from the library. Or, if you can afford it, go back to school part time.
Finally, don’t be disappointed if you have to pick up a less-than-ideal employment opportunity for the time being. “You may have to end up taking a job that pays your rent and find other ways to improve yourself, aside from you career, while you wait for the economy to improve,” says Dr. Robbins.