Having a Job or Not Having a Job: Both Situations Cause Anxiety

Losing your job can be a truly distressing experience. On the other hand, some jobs can also be a major source of stress and anxiety. So, how can you deal with these two different kinds of pressure?
Having a Job or Not Having a Job: Both Situations Cause Anxiety
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 09 February, 2023

When you meet someone new, you usually ask them their name and what they do for a living. In fact, work isn’t just a way of subsistence and obtaining a salary, but it’s also significant in many other ways.

As a matter of fact, a job can completely condition your psychological well-being. For instance, having an occupation that’s below your skill level, training, and aspirations might become extremely frustrating. On the other hand, being subject to precarious working conditions increases the risk of anxiety and depression.

And what can we say about being unemployed? Well, having no job can send you into an abyss of anguish, low self-esteem, and hopelessness. Indeed, for better or for worse, what provides you with a salary shapes the image you have of yourself. What’s more, mental health-wise, this dimension is the one that most conditions your well-being or psychological discomfort.

Personal development goes hand in hand with professional development.

Man thinking about the effect of having a job and not having a job
Work is a pillar of psychological health.

Having a job or not having a job – both can be sources of unhappiness

Steve Jobs said that the only way to achieve great things is to love what you do. However, sometimes, despite the fact that you love your job and strive to do it in the best possible way, you still don’t feel fulfilled. That’s because there are many factors that can reduce, distort, and hinder your work.

We’ve all been conditioned to believe that jobs are, above all, sources of income. But, in reality, they’re much more. In fact, sometimes having a good salary isn’t enough to make you feel happy and self-fulfilled. For example, at what cost are you achieving such a salary? Is it by doing endless shifts and having a really high workload? Or, are you suffering bullying in the workplace? Perhaps you’re in a dangerous environment?

Employment builds your identity and sustains your life (Gallo et al., 2005). That said, there’s also the subtle irony that both having a job and not having a job can be the greatest sources of anxiety in humans. For example, not having a bad job might ensure your feelings of satisfaction and mental well-being. On the other hand, not having a job at all can be devastating.

Work is a basic pillar of psychological health

It’s true that, as a human being, you shouldn’t direct your entire existence to work, but when the latter fails, almost everything in your life is affected. Your self-concept wavers, along with your social relationships. Even your physical and mental health suffer.

The psychologist, David L. Blustein explains in a research paper that job occupation plays a central role in the development and expression of psychological well-being. It does so for the following reasons:

  • Work is the mechanism by which you manage, not only to survive but also to fulfill your dreams and achieve personal goals.
  • It contributes to your effectiveness and allows you to feel competent.
  • It reinforces your self-image. Therefore, you perceive yourself as part of society.
  • It allows you to establish skills, learning, and experiences that outline your life story.

In one way or another, your work transcends you, gets under your skin, and reaches the depths of your psychological strata. For this reason, sometimes, having a job or not having a job can generate the same levels of anxiety.

Losing your job… A traumatic experience?

A 2021 Mental Health Foundation report made it clear that unemployment and job uncertainty are the biggest sources of anxiety among the general population. In fact, about 70 percent of people consider their mental health to be affected by job loss, and 25 percent say they feel traumatized.

Why is this? Why might someone view job loss as trauma? Firstly, it’s because, sooner or later, the financial functioning of a home will be affected. Added to this is the loss of a lifestyle and the vision we had of ourselves. We break and leave behind certain dynamics that, until not long ago, defined us. Letting go of it all can be devastating.

The longer a situation of unemployment or an experience of poor working conditions lasts, the more that mental health is affected.

When having a job doesn’t allow you to have a life

Sometimes, you have a job but it doesn’t allow you to have the life you wanted. Maybe at some point, you dreamed of reaching your position but, now you achieved it, it’s turned out to be a big disappointment. Perhaps you’ve found yourself immersed in unethical and legal conditions, in a strange and threatening environment that makes you lose sleep and fear the arrival of every Monday.

If this kind of work continues for a long period of time, you become aware that, far from having a life, you’re only surviving. You know you can’t go on like this, but the idea of not having a job makes you equally anxious. Therefore, almost without knowing how it happened, you become trapped at a most adverse existential crossroads.

girl thinking about the effect of having a job and not having a job
Job uncertainty, losing a job, or feeling that we’re not happy in our jobs is currently one of the biggest sources of anxiety.

What can you do?

Today, having the same job for life is no longer the norm. Indeed, most of us change positions several times. In this kind of dynamic, moments of uncertainty tend to multiply. Change usually tests your ability to adapt, both physically and mentally. However, when it comes to young people today, their working lives will be defined by these ups and downs. There’ll be times when they have a good salary and others when they find themselves struggling.

You can develop new tools, such as being more competitive, creative, or innovative. This can, indeed, be helpful. However, the skills that you really need to integrate are those related to your mental health. In fact, knowing how to manage stress and anxiety, being resilient, or having the support of your friends in difficult times, will be your lifesavers.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Blustein, D. L. (2008). The role of work in psychological health and well-being: A conceptual, historical, and public policy perspective. American Psychologist, 63(4), 228–240. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.63.4.228
  • Mental Health Foundation. (2021). Upheaval, uncertainty, and change: themes of adulthood. Author
  • Montgomery, S. M., Cook, D. G., Bartley, M. J., & Wadsworth, M. E. J. (1999). Unemployment pre-dates symptoms of depression and anxiety resulting in medical consultation in young men. International Journal of Epidemiology28(1), 95–100.
  • Moorhouse, A., & Caltabiano, M. L. (2007). Resilience and unemployment: Exploring risk and protective influences for the outcome variables of depression and assertive job searching. Journal of Employment Counseling44(3), 115–125.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.