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GETTING LAID OFF—or even just worrying that you could lose your job—is an emotional and uncertain time. You’re likely dealing with financial fallout and the stress of finding a new job, and agonizing over what the future holds.
More people are worried about getting laid off these days, too. While unemployment is lower than it has been in decades, the economy is struggling. Recently, 75 percent of Americans said they’re worried about widespread job losses, and 39 percent are worried about losing their own jobs, according to an April 2023 Morning Consult poll.
“When it comes to the impacts of being laid off, first and foremost is the financial stress of losing one’s job,” says Dan Lieberman, M.D., senior vice president of mental health at Hims & Hers. “Suddenly, all the things we take for granted, like being able to pay the rent, become a source of worry and stress.”
That’s especially the case if you don’t have an emergency fund to turn to, he adds.
“In a perfect world, we’d all have a strong, stable sense of our identity,” he says. “But in reality, we’re dependent on external factors to give us a sense of who we are, and our job is among the most important of those factors.”
It’s vital that you protect your mental health if you’re dealing with a layoff. Here are some tips from therapists for how to cope.
Why Do Layoffs Affect Your Mental Health?
Losing your job can take a toll on your emotions.
“Being laid off can be very stressful from a financial perspective and lead to increased feelings of depression or anxiety, particularly if someone is a caregiver or the primary breadwinner for their household,” says Anisha Patel-Dunn, D.O., chief medical officer at LifeStance Health.
Your career is also probably a big part of your identity, she adds. “When you’re subjected to a layoff, this can be incredibly impactful to your overall feeling of self-worth and lead to concerns about your future plans.”
Even if you’re just worried about getting laid off—and, haven’t yet lost your job—you still may be dealing with anxiety and “stress of the unknown,” explains Nicole Erkfitz, L.C.S.W., executive director at AMFM Healthcare.
“The individual may start to put in extra work hours to prove their worth at the company in hopes of not being a part of the layoffs, obtain less sleep due to working more, or experience the stress and cyclical thoughts keeping us up at night, the what ifs,” she says.
Layoff-related stress might cause you to spend less time with family and friends, skip healthy habits like exercising, become irritable, or fixate on worst-case scenarios, Dr. Patel-Dunn says.
Should You Look for a New Job Immediately?
Most people have to jump right into a job search since they need to earn money. But if it’s possible to take any kind of breather, do it.
“There’s a way to put boundaries around your job search so that you allow yourself moments of self-care and reflection during this period,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. For example, take 20 minutes at the beginning and end of your day to meditate, write your thoughts in a journal, or go for a walk.
“These simple acts of grounding yourself and returning to things that bring you joy can be a helpful tool to help you reflect during this time,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. “You certainly don’t have to hold off on job searching altogether to reap the benefits of self-reflection.”
Losing your job forces you to break out of your comfort zone and examine your core identity. Dr. Lieberman says this can lead you to discover hidden strengths that could lead you in a new direction.
“Even if we can’t take time off to do this important work, we can at least be aware that momentous changes will be taking place deep within our psyche and try to keep our minds open to new perspectives and new ways of thinking about who we are,” he says.
How to Take Care of Your Mental Health When You’re Laid Off
Any time you lose your job, you’ll experience a range of emotions, from stress to anger to uncertainty. Here are some ways to cope and protect your mental health.
Take Time to Process the Layoff
Whether getting laid off was expected or a shock, take some time to breathe and adjust to your new situation. Try not to take it personally—layoffs usually have to do with a company’s finances, not your job performance.
Turn to Your Support System
Tell your friends and family as soon as you can. They can offer emotional support and help you see the big picture: that layoffs happen, it’s not a reflection on you, and you’re valued, Dr. Lieberman says.
“This ensures that you’re staying connected to people and that you have somebody that you can check in with and who can check in on you,” Erkfitz says.
Take Time for Yourself
You probably have your own methods for managing stress, and now is a good time to embrace those tactics, Dr. Lieberman says. Spend time with friends and family, increase your physical activity, take long walks, and try meditating.
Stick to a Schedule
Losing the structure of a work schedule can increase uncertainty. Dr. Patel-Dunn suggests trying to stick to a consistent schedule as you’re searching for a new job.
“Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day,” she says. “Ensure you’re eating balanced meals and taking time to step away from screens and move your body, even if it’s just a walk around the block.”
Break Up the Job Search
Searching for a new job can be overwhelming, Dr. Lieberman says. He suggests breaking it down into smaller tasks.
“The first step might be to reach out to contacts who may know of opportunities,” he says. “If you make a list of all the steps and cross them off one by one, it can make this transitional period feel more manageable and give a sense of accomplishment as each task is crossed off the list.”
When to Seek Mental Health Care
Feeling sad after losing a job is normal. But, when you’re losing your energy and motivation, isolating yourself, or thinking about death or suicide, consider that they could be signs of depression, and seek mental health treatment.
“It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at first, but if someone is not able to function, unable to do the work necessary to start their job search, and especially if they have thoughts of harming themselves, it’s time to seek help,” Dr. Lieberman says.
You might still have health insurance from your previous job for a period of time after you’re laid off, so check with your insurer. Otherwise, Erkfitz says, “Many therapists offer sliding scales, or your community or state may have options for public services that may be free or low-cost.”
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