Brain Exercises to Keep Your Work Reflexes Sharp While Unemployed

Being out of work for years can be scary, and not just for the loss of income. People returning to work after being unemployed for a long time can re-enter a work force that has changed considerably and make them feel rusty in learning new tasks.

Keeping your brain engaged during a job hunt, and being able to quickly get your mental reflexes back when starting a new job, are important skills to have. And they are skills that need to be learned. A new study shows that people learn new information more effectively when brain activity is consistent, such as studying in the same place every day.

The brain, like the body it's attached to, without exercise gets a little sloppy, points out Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of 'The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide.' Not being around the day-to-day flow of information, ideas, requests and deadlines, it's easy to forget the basics. It will take time to come up to speed.

"That's not to say you can't get back into shape," Cohen wrote in an e-mail to AOL Jobs. "It just takes a little discipline, focus and consistency. It also means managing the rejection that is inevitable in job search, which can be extremely disruptive and which often leads to inactivity. It's a bad cycle and a difficult one to break."

To combat it, Cohen suggests joining a professional group with members who are working in your industry of choice and attending meetings in person or virtually. It's a great way to network and will force you to think and use your brain.

How to combat depression

The long-term unemployed can sink into deep depressions, and they can counter this and keep their minds sharp with four strategies beyond games, reading and mental exercises, according to Dr. Sylvia Gearing, a clinical psychologist in the Dallas area.

They are:

  1. Control: The belief that you can cushion the harmful effects of a situation by the way you look at the situation and by how you react to the situation. This is an antidote against helplessness, which is the key ingredient in any kind of depression or anxiety.
  2. Challenge: Change is viewed as an opportunity for growth and excitement. Excitement is crucial, because research teaches us that boredom and hopelessness increase your risk of disease. Being constructively challenged keeps you healthy.
  3. Commitment: Believing in something larger than yourself -- moral or spiritual values, our country, etc. -- is instrumental in withstanding adversity. Committed people find a sense of will and discipline that sets them apart during the rough times.
  4. Coherence: This is a pervasive, enduring though dynamic feeling that one's internal and external environments are predictable and that there is a high probability that things will work out as can be reasonably expected.

Doing something creative is the best way to keep the brain fit while looking for a job, said Harvard psychologist and creativity researcher Shelley Carson, author of 'Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life.'Carson recommends researching and learning about a topic you know nothing about. She also suggests learning a new skill, such as a new language or tennis.

Learning a new language is what Cynthia Clampitt did to keep her brain in shape while out of a job for more than a year, she told AOL Jobs in an e-mail. She learned Japanese so well on her computer that she started giving presentations at her local library, and began writing a book. She later found a job and says, "the brain was firing on all cylinders. I had no problem stepping back into a work situation."

Ellen Collis has been unemployed for more than a year, taking part-time jobs as she finds them, and found that the best way to keep her writing and reporting skills sharp for the magazine industry she was in was to start a blog. Collis worked part-time at a clothing boutique and found that stepping out of her comfort zone and doing tasks she hadn't done before helped her learn new things that increased her networking abilities.

How to keep the brain strong

The retail store Marbles: The Brain Store, was founded two years ago by two women who were looking for gifts for their elderly parents who expressed concern about Alzheimer's, but their research led them to a broader audience. The store specializes only in products such as games, puzzles and other things that are designed to stimulate and strengthen the brain.

Improving your marketability while unemployed by taking classes and learning new skills is another way to keep the brain active, recommends Douglas J. Blatt, who works in the information systems industry and has been unemployed a couple of times in the past few years. Taking a class shows potential employers you're not just sitting at home waiting for something to happen, and that you're interested in self improvement.

"I fear there are too many people that have lost hope after months and months of being unemployed," Blatt wrote in an e-mail to AOL Jobs. "I was fearful I would be one of them and worked hard not to lose my skills. I believe we should be offering retraining for people who have been unemployed for a long period of time. It could be just boosting their skills in their current field, or helping them learn a new career field."

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