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Your job and career are more than just something you do to get a paycheck. In most cases, it contributes to your professional and social identity. At your job, you form relationships with workmates that can extend beyond work conversations about deadlines and boardrooms to becoming lifelong friendships and enduring support systems. Getting laid off is very stressful and traumatic. It can shatter your self-esteem and leave you discouraged, sad and angry. It is crucial to take care of your health during this difficult time so that it can become a period of personal and professional growth.
What should you do after being laid off?
People react very differently to company layoffs. The most common reactions are shock or panic. Try to avoid making any rash decisions because you are most likely not in a state of calm. Once the initial shock has worn off, make sure to go through any official communication that has been sent by your former employer. It is likely that you may have missed some important information about severance pay or health benefits from your employer that may help to cushion the blow. Through all the initial reactions, try to breathe and allow yourself some time to process what has happened.
Take some time to grieve the loss of your job
It is important to hit pause and take some time to acknowledge and accept the situation. You are probably going through a roller coaster of emotions. Allow yourself to feel these emotions in a safe space. A safe space can be a physical space like your room but it can also be abstract like a comforting conversation with a friend or a family member. You need to feel free from judgement when you are processing difficult feelings like shame and anger. If you’re not ready to talk to other people, writing down your thoughts in a journal can also be a helpful way of unburdening yourself.
As you grieve the loss of your job, don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes we are our own harshest critics. Research has shown that intense self-criticism can cause mood and anxiety disorders. If you find that during the grieving process you continue to be in distress, take charge of your mental wellness and get support. Getting the support you need will allow you to return to your job search with renewed energy.
Continue to take care of your basic needs
Getting laid off can drastically reduce motivation to do anything. It’s easy to spend the whole day in bed, eating unhealthy food and ignoring your hygiene. While this can be an understandable part of grieving the loss of your job, you probably don’t want it to last too long. Taking care of yourself, eating healthily and doing all the things you may not feel like doing will help you feel better more quickly and improve your well-being. Exercise has been shown by numerous studies to significantly reduce depressive symptoms. A simple outdoor walk may be beneficial in lifting your mood and helping you get things into perspective.
Understand the symptoms of anxiety
Layoffs and losing your income can make you agonise about the future and how you can provide for yourself and your family. Sometimes that worry can overwhelm you and take over your body. Experiencing these symptoms for the first time is terrifying and confusing and can add to your stress. Anxiety can be different each time and can look different for many people. Knowing some common symptoms of anxiety can allow you to get appropriate support when you need it. Here are some symptoms to look out for.
- Dizziness, tingling, nausea, sweating
- Feelings of unreality
- Racing heart
- Feeling breathless
These symptoms are terrifying to experience but it is important to remember that they are not dangerous and will eventually pass over time.
Talk to a friend
Unemployment is stressful and it can be helpful to contact and share how you feel with friends, family members or mentors you trust. You can also reach out to other employees of your former company who have also been laid off for advice. Don’t let discomfort keep you from asking for help. Even if you don’t need any expert advice from a friend, keeping connections is important to combat isolation. Having a good conversation is a great way to destress and allows you to have a clearer mind when you make decisions about your life. If you are cut off from friends and family members or don’t feel like reaching out, using a chat-based app like Wysa can help you combat isolation and safeguard your mental health.
Assess your finances
In order to make informed decisions, you need to have a clear picture of your finances. Depending on your severance pay and how much money you have in savings, you can decide to take more time to reflect on your next career move. Either way, some modifications may need to be made to your spending while you are undertaking your job search. Create a budget that you can follow until you find a new job.
The reality is that not everyone can have money saved for an emergency like getting laid off. If your government offers unemployment benefits, it is important to do your research and check official websites for eligibility requirements. Once this is done, you can file for these benefits as soon as you receive the layoff letter from your employer or company.
Update your resume
Use your free time to work on your resume and boost your job search. If you need to keep a steady flow of income, you may decide to get any available work while you navigate the job market for a new role in your career field. Educate yourself on current industry standards for resumes to ensure that yours matches what recruiters are looking for. Some professionals provide assistance with resume writing but this can be an unnecessary added cost that you may not be able to afford. You can update your resume yourself using industry-specific information, which is freely available on the internet.
Use the time to reflect on your next career move
You can utilise this opportunity to reassess your professional trajectory and future goals, think about what kind of jobs may align with your interests and even contemplate a career change. You could ask your colleagues or former employer for advice to get more insights or even consult a career counsellor about what kind of job will suit you best. As you undertake your job search, think about your requirements and expectations from your next employer in terms of salary, job title and working hours.
Start networking online and offline
When you have decided on the direction you want to proceed in your career, networking online is a great way to gain exposure and market your skills. Professional platforms like LinkedIn provide a streamlined way to connect with potential employers and find a new job. You can also reach out to employees of companies that you’re interested in. Just as there are industry standards for exceptional resumes, there are industry standards for exceptional LinkedIn profiles. Not everyone uses online platforms but if you do, ensure that your LinkedIn profile stands out and shows exactly what you have to offer. Get in touch with your former colleagues, bosses and friends for career advice and to enquire about new opportunities and jobs. Your network is a significant part of your job search process and can share leads about jobs in their companies.
Reaching out to professional contacts can be very daunting for some people. It’s understandable to struggle with fear or rejection but it is necessary to remain confident and positive about the outcome of your networking efforts. Working with a friend or an accountability partner can be helpful to navigate those parts of the job search that you find intimidating. Remember that losing your job, though very hard, is not the end of your career and may become an opportunity to make necessary changes to your career path now that you have nothing holding you back.
Create a new daily schedule
With a lot more time available, you can maximise your personal development. Along with your job search, consider spending time doing short online courses to learn new skills that can help you land a new job. Reflect on any challenges that you encountered in your previous jobs in various companies and use this opportunity to improve yourself. For example, if you struggle with being assertive, watch videos and practise how to advocate for yourself and others with a friend.
You can also prepare yourself for job interviews. Losing your job can make you lose confidence in your skills and abilities and this can affect how you present yourself in a job interview. Think of the questions you are most likely to be asked and write down the answers thoughtfully. Read the responses and make the changes that you feel are necessary. You can also practise answering job interview questions with a friend, or in front of the mirror.
How can you take care of your mental health after getting laid off?
1. Focus on what you can control
The biggest challenge with feeling overwhelmed is figuring out how to move on from a state of panic. Dwelling on things you cannot control can take you down a rabbit hole of scenarios that can consume your mind and make you feel even more frustrated and stuck. Try to focus on the things within your control. One way of doing that is using the worry decision tree. It allows you to evaluate your worries to see which concerns are within your control. Once you realise that a situation is out of your control, you can decide to let it go and focus your attention on problems you can actually fix. Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself.
- What am I worrying about?
- Is this about a real-life problem or a hypothetical situation?
- Is this something that I can fix right away, or schedule to do soon?
- What are my options in this situation?
2. Make a list of what you have achieved so far
It can seem impossible to think you have had any success when failure seems to be prominent in your life. But it’s hard to argue with facts, especially when they are written down. Write down your achievements to remember how hard you have worked at your jobs and what you have achieved, no matter how small the task. This exercise can improve your confidence, remind you of other times in your career when things were difficult but you were successful, and make you feel more positive about your future.
3. Practise radical gratitude
You can take it a step further by practising radical gratitude. Radical gratitude is the process of finding things to be grateful for in the context of deep pain and suffering. This can allow you to find a way to embrace your job loss and use it as a springboard to launch your career further. Radical gratitude doesn’t ignore the pain. It acknowledges how unfair the situation is but also helps you realise that you are strong in the face of your job loss. A practical way to implement radical gratitude is to write down five things that you are grateful for because of your job loss. Keep reminding yourself of these facts and they will motivate you as you progress in your career.
4. Try breathing exercises
Taking a deep breath can help you to slow down your heart rate when you feel overwhelmed. There are numerous breathing exercises ranging from simple slow breathing to complex ones. The Wysa app has breathing exercises that can take you from heightened stress to a place of calm. While there are many breathing exercises to choose from, the following tips can help you get the most out of your breathing session.
- Remove any physical and mental distractions wherever possible. It’s really hard to feel calm when there are loud noises and other distractions in the background. A quiet place is ideal, but even if you can’t get to a quiet place, breathing exercises may still be helpful.
- Try to put all your attention on feeling your body inhale and exhale. This is one way to shut out any distractions.
When you anticipate that you’re getting more stressed, take slow deep breaths to help you gain control. Taking meditative breathing breaks throughout the day can help prevent the sudden onset of overwhelming feelings.
5. Keep up your self-care routine
Continue to follow a regular sleep, exercise and eating schedule during unemployment. Physical activity can reduce symptoms of anxiety. Remember to make time for fun and do the things that you enjoy. The job search can become so consuming that you can get burnt out. Take the time to explore new hobbies, listen to music or curl up with a good book. Doing the small things can have a big impact on your wellness.
6. Stay positive
Remember that layoffs aren’t anyone’s fault and that losing your job is only a temporary setback. Surround yourself with people who make you feel confident and remind you of your strengths. Document your vision and your goals and make an action plan. Do not aim for perfection but for progress. Each day, choose to show up for yourself and your goals. Embrace the job search as a part of your personal and professional development.
7. Consult a professional when needed
⚠️If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is at hand. Please visit this list of helplines and resources for different countries.
Taking care of yourself mentally is of utmost importance when you lose your job. In some cases, you can get over the fear and disappointment of losing a job by tapping into your own strengths and support network. It is also important to recognise when you need the help of a professional. You could benefit from visiting a doctor or a therapist if your normal coping strategies don’t seem to be working to alleviate your stressors. If you are having prolonged sleeping difficulties and are unable to take care of your daily needs like eating, bathing and dressing up for the day, then you need to reach out for help.
It’s really hard to experience overwhelming feelings of helplessness and paralysing fear. If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, help is just a call away. Reach out to your local hotlines and suicide prevention numbers and trained professionals will assist you. If your friends or family express concern about your well-being, try to accept their help and support.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Photo by Liza Summer