How to recover emotionally after losing your job
Losing your job can put you into freefall both financially and emotionally, and can be not only exhausting but genuinely scary. According to Consultant Counselling Psychologist and Clinical Lead at Efficacy, Tanya Woolf, it’s important to treat losing your job just like any other loss. She says, “These feelings of grief and reflections on our loss are part of the normal process of adjusting to a new situation that leaves us feeling worse off than we used to be.”
On the money side, despite the fact that over 1 in 5 (22%) of families are worried about job insecurity, 60% have no financial plan for dealing with a sudden loss of income1. This presents a worrying disconnect, it seems we are aiming to control stress by putting the idea of unemployment to the back of our minds, only to find things are made much worse with no contingency plans.
Stages of recovering from job loss
While we may think of losing a job as the end of the world, there are many ways you can minimise the damage, and also the anxiety around it. We identified five key stages of recovering from job loss:
- Mourning – The initial stage of sadness and upset.
- Fear – Worry around finances and security sets in, and the gravity of the situation may seem overwhelming.
- Acknowledgement – You are aware of what’s happened, and resigned to the fact you can no longer go back.
- Turnaround – At this point, the negative emotions will clear and you’ll start to realise that there are other options and you will survive. For some, reaching this stage may take longer than with others.
- Action – Eventually, you’ll feel motivated to look for new jobs and move forward with your life.
Practical steps to dealing with job loss
While you’re still in work
There are lots of ways to protect yourself, whether job termination is expected or comes out of the blue. Nearly half (45%) of families would last less than a month if their main breadwinner was unable to work. Some people would advise putting aside three months’ salary to avoid this outcome- this is not a bad philosophy if you have the capacity to do it! Two thirds (67%) of families said they could cut back on the weekly shop and over 60% also said they could tighten their belts when it came to entertainment and personal luxuries.
Additionally, only 13% of families have income protection, an insurance policy that will replace your earnings should you have to stop work because of injury or poor health. It’s worth finding out more about this, in order to give yourself more peace of mind.
Creative Life and Business Coach at Wild Women Do Marie Milligan speaks about redundancy, in particular, and scenarios where you already know you’re going to become unemployed. She advises asking yourself what your plans are after, and whether you want to stay in the same field or let it change your life for the better.
She says: “Get clear on your career dream, goals, plan, and the action you need to take to achieve your dream before you are in crisis point. Taking charge to get clear on what you want before someone else tells you to do so, gives you a sense of power, and you can plan from a more positive perspective.”
The first day
It’s possible at this point you’re feeling hugely scared and in the mourning or fear stage. It’s also possible, you’ve bypassed that, and are excited for new challenges ahead. Either way, Milligan says, “The most positive action you can take is plan to rest. Your mind and body need time to just be.” Beating yourself up, and getting frantic about fixing everything immediately can be counterproductive. Allow yourself time to process everything so that when your job hunt starts you have the energy.
The first week
Milligan emphasises that this first week, despite what you may be feeling, is the time for clarity and action:
“If fear or uncertainty of the what next creeps in, as it often does, this is when any prep you’ve done beforehand can really help reassure you that you know what you want and how to do it… If you haven’t done as much prep as you would have liked, take the questions below and work through them in a calm way.”
- What’s your career or business mission, vision and values?
- What job title would you be searching for in the Job Ads or Recruitment Agencies if you could be hired to do this one thing?
- What step-by-step process, system and action plan will help you take your career “project” to completion?
The first month
Hopefully, at this time you’re firmly in the action stage of recovery. Yet, if you’re still struggling to get back on track after a month, Milligan says you might want to try other career options such as starting your own business. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but treating finding work as a job in itself will allow you to keep a routine and avoid the trap of daytime television and demotivation. Consider seeing a career coach or recruitment specialist to work out your ideal path.
As well as the day-to-day issues you may face due to unemployment, Woolf says it can lead to depression, anxiety, or both. This is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, she says that we are “likely to experience a sense of rejection.” Also, “there is the likelihood that for many of us, the involuntary loss of a job would lead to serious financial loss. This could leave us thinking and worrying about how to pay bills, look after our family and so on.”
Tip 1: Set measurable and realistic goals
Accomplishing small tasks will give you a boost and help you get where you want to be.
Tip 2: Wake up at the same time every day
Set an alarm and get ready as you would if you were going to work.
Tip 3: Recognise negative thoughts
Then make a small change like learning something new or going for a walk.
Tip 4: Practice self-care
Look after your body, and you'll have more energy and think more positively.
She says it is important to “remind ourselves that anxiety is an evolved response to threats and so our body is helping us deal with a genuine threat/danger.” Using calming techniques like ‘mindfulness’ and slow breathing, as well as the practical career steps mentioned above, will get you back to your enthusiastic and determined self. Woolf states:
Evidence suggests that people with a written plan and the ability to keep motivating themselves in the face of difficulties get the best outcomes.
So, every little step forward puts you in a better place mentally, and also gets you closer to where you want to be work-wise.
Of course, it is completely normal to feel sad or angry in this situation, but be aware of warning signs for deteriorating mental health. Things to look out for include what Woolf calls a “hopeless position” where the same negative thoughts like “what’s the point?” or “I’ll never get work again” are repeatedly coming up. On top of this, some people experience physical symptoms such as a sharp rise or decrease in appetite, not sleeping properly, or tired and sore muscles. Woolf advises that, “Seeking support is a proactive and positive step to life’s next opportunities,” and that asking for a help is nothing to be ashamed of. For more information, you can read our useful guide on alleviating financial stress.
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