How to Manage the Emotions and Stress of Unemployment
Losing your job is listed among the top 10 of life’s most stressful events. Add to that the very real potential for financial difficulties and an ongoing pandemic, and you could have a perfect storm of stressors.
Of course, the natural tendency is to jump immediately into a job search. But it’s just as important to protect your emotional health during a period of unemployment as it is to find work.
Practical Steps to Take When You’re Losing Your Job
If you know you’re going to lose your job, you have a head start both on your job hunt as well as managing your stress. In this situation, taking control of the situation by updating your resume, signing up to receive job posting alerts, and updating your LinkedIn profile can help your feel more in control and, therefore, less stressed. Forewarned, in this case, is forearmed.
If your job loss is a surprise, you may need to take a day or two to move through the very real and valid emotions that come with the news. Shock, disbelief, anger, grief, fear are all normal reactions to losing your job. Feel those emotions. Even better, feel those emotions while you do something active and physical like walking, running, riding a bike, or taking a boxing class. Then, move on by taking practical actionable steps to find new work.
Study How Others Have Coped with Job Loss and Beef Up Your Skills
At first, you may think you’ll have lots of time on your hands after losing your job. The truth is the emotional toll, financial worries, and job search will eat up more of your time than you could have imagined. But take time to beef up your skills. Take certification classes you may have been meaning to take but haven’t gotten around to. Look at what certifications potential employers are listing in job postings as requirements or nice-to-haves, and start with those. Make note of things you come across that seem interesting to you and you’d like to explore further. And well, explore further!
In this episode of Fortunate Failures, Lloyd Hopkins describes how he did just that! He had the full emotional reaction to losing his job. But when he shared the news with this brother, he got a surprising response, “Great. You lost your job. Now find your life.” Hopkins shares how his career had become his identity. He had gotten caught up in the job, the title, the salary, the ego, the material trappings, and the car. So he followed his brother’s advice, and he did anything that interested him. He scuba-dived; he journaled; he wrote a book! And not only did he survive losing his job, he found, “It is possible to live a purposeful life and make a good living while you’re doing it.”
What to Say about Losing Your Job
Talking to friends, family, and coworkers about your upcoming state of employment may seem like something you’d like to avoid or downplay altogether, but they are your network—not just for finding new work but your emotional support network during stressful times.
How you frame those conversations is important. Resist any urge to criticize your former or soon-to-be-former employer or take on a “Woe is me” attitude except maybe with those closest to you.
Consider wording conversations with your broader network like this:
“I just found out I’m losing my job on X date. The pandemic has hit my company hard, and they’re downsizing my role. I’m looking forward to:
- – Switching careers and focusing more on x which has always been a favorite but smaller part of my job
- – Seeing how competitors will view my x year’s of industry experience
- – Applying my x skillset to a new company.
You’ll likely find that people are very helpful in offering to pass along any job openings they know of, serving as a reference, offering to connect you with others to expand your network, and providing advice on how they coped with a job loss. Listening to their stories of bouncing back after a job loss can take the tiniest edge off of your worries. Be sure to write down any information or contacts they provide and follow up.
Read the Fine Print
Read any materials your employer may provide you regarding your job loss. Review your separation agreement carefully. There may be details your HR representative left out of your conversation that could affect your severance payout, your ability to reapply to the company, and potentially working for competitors. Know where you stand. And don’t be shy about asking questions. You can even ask if the termination date can be extended. If you’re an employee in good standing, this is a real possibility.
Also continuing your health insurance and maintaining access to your 401(k) account can be key to your peace of mind and physical health. If your employer offers health insurance they should provide information on The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, known as COBRA. Make note of any deadlines for filing for continuing health insurance and adhere carefully to those deadlines! And check out alternate health insurance options through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Also write down usernames and passwords for online accounts for things like your 401(k), so you can access your accounts easily after leaving your company’s network.
Every step of losing your job, searching for work, and starting a new job is stressful. But there are many ways to keep your stress in check. Break down actions you need to take into small steps. Celebrate and feel your positive momentum as you complete tasks. Network by starting with friends, family, and current and former co-workers. Accept their help! Keep track of all information related to insurance and benefits like 401(k). Monitor your stress levels, take care of yourself, and remember that many successful people have found themselves unemployed. You are not alone. People like you lost 22,000,000 jobs during the pandemic alone. And even Steve Jobs was fired, and he was fired by Apple, the company he started!