Our jobs are much more than just the way we make a living. They influence how we see ourselves, as well as the way others see us. Our jobs give us structure, purpose, and meaning. That’s why job loss and unemployment is one of the most stressful things you can experience.
Beyond the loss of income, losing a job also comes with other major losses, some of which may be even more difficult to face:
- Loss of your professional identity
- Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence
- Loss of your daily routine
- Loss of purposeful activity
- Loss of your work-based social network
- Loss of your sense of security
Grief is normal after losing a job
Grief is a natural response to loss, and that includes the loss of a job. Losing your job takes forces you to make rapid changes. You may feel angry, hurt, panicked, rejected, and scared. What you need to know is that these emotions are normal. You have every right to be upset, so accept your feelings and go easy on yourself.
Also remember that many, if not most, successful people have experienced major failures in their careers. But they’ve turned those failures around by picking themselves up, learning from the experience, and trying again. When bad things happen to you—like experiencing unemployment—you can grow stronger and more resilient in the process of overcoming them.
Fear, depression, and anxiety will make it harder to get back on the job market, so it’s important to actively deal with your feelings and find healthy ways to grieve. Acknowledging your feelings and challenging your negative thoughts will help you deal with the loss and move on.
Surviving the emotional roller coaster of unemployment and job loss
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member about what you’re going through. He or she doesn’t have to offer solutions, just be a good listener. The simple act of sharing can often make you feel better.
- Write about your feelings. Express everything you feel about being laid off or unemployed, including things you wish you had said (or hadn’t said) to your former boss. This is especially cathartic if your layoff or termination was handled in an insensitive way.
- Accept reality. While it’s important to acknowledge how difficult job loss and unemployment can be, it’s equally important to avoid wallowing. Rather than dwelling on your job loss—how unfair it is; how poorly it was handled; things you could have done to prevent it; how much better life would be if it hadn’t happened—try to accept the situation. The sooner you do, the sooner you can get on with the next phase in your life.
- Don’t beat yourself up. It’s easy to start criticizing or blaming yourself when you’ve lost your job and are unemployed. But it’s important to avoid putting yourself down. You’ll need your self-confidence intact as you’re looking for a new job. Challenge every negative thought that goes through your head. If you start to think, “I’m a loser,” write down evidence to the contrary: “I lost my job because of the recession, not because I was bad at my job.”
- Look for the silver lining. Losing a job is easier to accept if you can find the lesson in your loss. What can you learn from the experience? Maybe your job loss and unemployment has given you a chance to reflect on what you want out of life and rethink your career priorities. Maybe it’s made you stronger. If you look, you’re sure to find something of value.
Beware of pitfalls
- Taking refuge in your “cave” may provide temporary comfort, but is little help if your time spent there is not constructive. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive family and friends may better help your self-esteem.
- Venting your anger and frustrations may only make you feel worse if you find yourself in the middle of a “pity party.” There are people who actually enjoy misery and the misfortune of others.
- Drinking is at best a temporary relief, and for some people, can lead to a crippling addiction.
Source: The University of Georgia
Don’t underestimate the importance of other people when you’re faced with job loss and unemployment. Be proactive. Let people know that you lost your job and are looking for work.
Taking action will help you feel more in control of your situation—and you never know what opportunities will arise. Plus, the outpouring of support you receive may pleasantly surprise you. Simple words of sympathy and encouragement can be a huge boost in this difficult time.
Turn to people you trust for support
Share what you’re going through with the people you love and trust. Ask for the support you need. Don’t try to shoulder the stress of job loss and unemployment alone. Your natural reaction may be to withdraw out of embarrassment and shame or to resist asking for help out of pride. But avoid the tendency to isolate. You will only feel worse.
Join or start a job club
Other job seekers can be invaluable sources of encouragement, support, and job leads. You can tap into this resource by joining or starting a job club. Being around other job seekers can be energizing and motivating, and help keep you on track during your job search.
To find a job club in your area, check out:
- Your local public library
- College and university career centers
- Professional networking sites
- The classifieds or career section of the newspaper
- Resources & References section below for links
Stay connected through networking
The vast majority of job openings are never advertised; they’re filled by word of mouth. That’s why networking is the best way to find a job. Unfortunately, many job seekers are hesitant to take advantage of networking because they’re afraid of being seen as pushy, annoying, or self-serving. But networking isn’t about using other people or aggressively promoting yourself—it’s about building relationships. As you look for a new job, these relationships can provide much-needed feedback, advice, and support.
Networking is much easier than you think
Networking may sound intimidating or difficult—especially when it comes to finding a job or asking for help—but it doesn’t have to be. Networking can be rewarding and fun, even if you’re shy or you feel like you don’t know many people.
Read: Job Networking Tips
Unemployment affects the whole family, so keep the lines of communication open. Tell your family what’s going on and involve them in major decisions. Keeping your job loss or your unemployment a secret will only make the situation worse. Working together as a family will help you survive and thrive, even in this difficult time.
- Keep your family in the loop. Tell them about your job search plans, let them know how you’re spending your time, update them on promising developments, and let them know how they can support you while you’re unemployed.
- Listen to their concerns. Your family members are worried about you, as well as their own stability and future. Give them a chance to talk about their concerns and offer suggestions regarding your job loss and unemployment.
- Make time for family fun. Set aside regular family fun time where you can enjoy each other's company, let off steam, and forget about your job loss and unemployment troubles. This will help the whole family stay positive.
Helping Children Cope with a Parent’s Unemployment
Children may be deeply affected by a parent's unemployment. It is important for them to know what has happened and how it will affect the family. However, try not to overburden them with the responsibility of too many of the emotional or financial details.
- Keep an open dialogue with your children. Letting them know what is really going on is vital. Children have a way of imagining the worst when they write their own "scripts," so the facts can actually be far less devastating than what they envision.
- Make sure your children know it's not anybody's fault. Children may not understand about job loss and immediately think that you did something wrong to cause it. Or, they may feel that somehow they are responsible or financially burdensome. They need reassurance in these matters, regardless of their age.
- Children need to feel they are helping. They want to help and having them do something like taking a cut in allowance, deferring expensive purchases, or getting an after-school job can make them feel as if they are part of the team.
The stress of job loss and unemployment can take a toll on your health. Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself. That means looking after your emotional and physical needs and making stress management a priority.
Tips for managing unemployment stress:
- Maintain balance in your life. Don’t let your job search consume you. Make time for fun, rest, and relaxation—whatever revitalizes you. Your job search will be more effective if you are mentally, emotionally, and physically at your best.
- Make time for regular exercise. Exercise can be a great outlet for stress and worry while you’re unemployed and looking for work. It is also a powerful mood and energy booster. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep has a huge influence on your mood and productivity. Make sure you’re getting between 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. It will help you keep your stress levels under control and maintain your focus throughout your job search.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga are a powerful antidote to stress. They also boost your feelings of serenity and joy and teach you how to stay calm and collected in challenging situations—including job loss and unemployment.
A long job search can wear on your attitude and outlook, especially if you’re unemployed. If it’s taking you longer than anticipated to find work, the following tips can help you stay focused and upbeat.
- Keep a regular daily routine. When you no longer have a job to report to every day, you can easily lose motivation. Treat your job search like a regular job, with a daily “start” and “end” time. Following a set schedule will help you be more efficient and productive while you’re unemployed.
- Create a job search plan. Avoid getting overwhelmed by breaking big goals into small, manageable steps. Instead of trying to do everything at once, set priorities. If you’re not having luck in your job search, take some time to rethink your goals.
- List your positives. Make a list of all the things you like about yourself, including skills, personality traits, accomplishments, and successes. Write down projects you’re proud of, situations where you excelled, and things you’re good at. Revisit this list often to remind yourself of your strengths.
- Volunteer. Unemployment can wear on your self-esteem and make you feel useless. Volunteering helps you maintain a sense of value and purpose. And helping others is an instantaneous mood booster. Volunteering can also provide career experience, social support, and networking opportunities.
- Focus on the things you can control. You can’t control how quickly a potential employer calls you back or whether or not they decide to hire you. Rather than wasting your precious energy on things that are out of your hands, turn your attention to things you can control during your unemployment, such as writing a great cover letter and resume tailored to the company you want to work for and setting up meetings with your networking contacts.
Resources & References
Coping with job loss and unemployment
Handling Your Job Loss – Advice designed to help you get over your loss and move forward with your quest for employment. (New York State Department of Labor)
Resiliency Skills for Handling the Emotional Side of Job Loss and Job Search – Guidelines for skillfully handling the emotional challenge of dealing with job loss and searching for new employment. (Resiliency Center)
Surviving Tough Times: Accepting Your Feelings (PDF) – Guide to recognizing strong feelings triggered by job loss and unemployment and dealing with them in positive ways. (The University of Georgia)
Tips for staying positive and focused during your job search
How to Survive a Layoff – Offers a ten-step to-do list for surviving a layoff. Includes tips for staying calm, finding support, and assessing your career goals. (The Washington Post)
Job-Hunting in a Weak Job Market – Five strategies for staying positive and improving your chances of job success. (Quintessential Careers)
The Laid Off Can Do Well Doing Good – Learn about the benefits of volunteer jobs for career development, emotional well-being, and networking. (The Wall Street Journal)
Laid Off? Rethink Goals – Describes how being laid off can be a blessing in disguise, giving you the chance to switch to a job that’s more personally and professionally fulfilling. (The Wall Street Journal)
Find a job club in the U.S.
Job-Hunt: Job Club Directory
The Riley Guide: Networking & Support Groups
Find a job club in other countries
In the UK: GB Job Clubs offers a Job Club Directory
In Australia: Job Searches Australia offers local providers
In Canada: Service Canada offers links to join a job-finding club