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How to Cope with Job Loss

When you lose your job, it can be upsetting. But remember that you’re not alone and there are supports available to help you.

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Understand your reaction to job loss

Losing your job can affect every aspect of your life. How you cope depends on many things including:

  • How you found out
  • How your employer treated you
  • Your personal situation—like your finances, skills, support network, and attitude

How did you find out about your job loss?

“The company was suffering financially, but up until then they hadn’t laid off any staff. I was the first one. I was in a state of total shock. Actually when I think back, I was so upset that day that I shouldn’t have even driven home.”

Maybe there were rumours and you knew what to expect. But if losing your job came as a shock, you may have felt anger, panic, or denial. It’s normal to feel these things.

Based on the rumors, you might have been ready for a job loss when it happened. But it still may cause an onset of emotions, including fear and anger. The rumours could also have pushed you to start looking for a new job.

Different people react to rumours and bad news in different ways. Try to give yourself a break, and get professional help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. You can also try to manage the fear that you may be feeling by trying a few fear-busting strategies.

How were you treated by your employer?

“My company merged with a multinational corporation. My boss said I could stay on for three months, until the takeover was complete. He said there was a chance the new owners might restructure and then rehire our existing staff. But I decided to look for another job as soon as I got my layoff notice. I was pretty sure I’d have to move to another city if I stayed on with the new owners, but it really helped to have a few months to explore my options.”

Your employer’s handling of the situation affects how you react to losing your job. Some organizations that are planning to let a group of employees go tell them months in advance. Sometimes employers offer separation or severance packages to their employees. Knowing what’s going on and having choices gives you some control over a bad situation. That can help to make losing your job a bit easier to deal with.

Companies may offer employees the option of staying on the job for a predefined period of time, which is often referred to as “working notice.” Depending on your situation, having a transition period can give you time to catch your breath before you plan your next steps.

If your company treated you with dignity and respect, and made it clear that the loss of your job was not due to personal or performance issues, you will probably have an easier time. If it came without warning, or you didn’t get any support, it may take you longer to adjust.

What is your personal situation?

Your personal situation can have a major effect on how you cope with being out of work.

Your finances

The state of your finances plays a big part in how you react to losing your job. If you receive a severance package and don’t have many bills, you may be less worried than someone who has a lot of debt and no severance pay.

Are you the primary source of income for the family? If so, being unemployed can be very stressful. Take time to do some financial planning within the first few weeks after your last day. What to Do First After Job Loss has advice and links to resources that can help you manage your finances.

Your age and experience

Losing a job isn’t easy for anyone. If you’re young, you may think your lack of experience will make it hard to compete with older workers. If you’re older or have been with the same employer in the same job for many years, you may feel out of touch with the labour market. You may worry you can’t compete with younger workers who have more up-to-date training.

Your skills, education, and training

If your skills are highly specialized in an industry where people are being let go, you may be facing some hard decisions. You may need to move to an area where your skills are still in demand. Or you may need to review your skills and identify which ones you can transfer to other occupations or industries now, and which ones you need to upgrade. 

Don’t jump to conclusions about what you need to find work. Instead, do your research to learn what education and skills you’ll need for various types of occupations. Some employers may be more interested in workers with practical or technical training than people with academic degrees. 

Whatever your skill level and experience, you can always market your employability skills to find new work.

Your support networks

Everyone needs a little help from friends and family at some point in life. It will be much easier for you to deal with your job loss if you have support.

Your outlook and attitude

Your attitude and thoughts about the future play an important role when you’re out of work. For example, if you believe there are no jobs out there, you’ll find it hard to be optimistic and proactive.

You may feel pretty stuck at the beginning, but use these tips to help you adjust to your situation and move forward in a positive direction.

5 tips for dealing with job loss

1. Give yourself time to adjust

It’s natural for you to wonder “Why me?” and search for things you did wrong that may have led to your job loss. Take time to think about how you’ve behaved in the past. Learn from any mistakes you’ve made, and move forward. Remember that beating yourself up doesn’t help:

  • Give yourself time to recover.
  • Give yourself permission to have bad days and work through your changing emotions.

Allow yourself to grieve

“At first I was in shock, and then I guess I just became really angry and I stayed angry for quite a while. Then I was really down. I withdrew and became depressed. And then finally I decided I had to get on with my life. I started to feel better once I got out there and started looking for work.”

For some people, losing a job can be a stress reliever. For others, it can be like losing a loved one. This reaction is common even among people who didn’t like their jobs. Don’t deny or ignore your feelings and your grief. Burying your emotions now may cause problems down the road.

You may experience all or some of the following stages of grief:

  • Shock and denial. You may feel numb and overwhelmed. It could take time for the news to sink in.
  • Anger. You may be angry at your former employer and lash out at friends and family. You may feel out of control.
  • Depression. When the reality sets in, you may feel depression and go through a period of mourning.
  • Withdrawal. You may prefer not to be with others and withdraw from those around you.
  • Acceptance. At this point, you come to terms with the loss and prepare to move on.

It is normal to feel all these things. But there is no one way to grieve, and you may not go through all stages. Or you may go through them in a different order and even repeat some. The key is to recognize that you didn’t ask for or deserve what happened.

Get help if you need it. Find support for grief and grieving at MyHealth.Alberta.ca and by searching for mental health and wellness services at Alberta Health Services.

2. Accept the reality of the situation

You can’t control what happens to corporations or the economy, so there may have been no way you could have avoided this. Regardless of how it happened, you can’t change the fact that you are out of work.

Try to adjust by figuring out what you can control—like your own attitude and what you’ll do to get back on your feet. Avoid the trap of dwelling on things you can’t change.

Manage the loss of income and benefits

You’ve lost your job, and with that comes a loss of income. It could cause a setback or completely change your lifestyle.

Often, people having financial troubles make life-changing decisions. Some decide to sell their house. Others rush to find a new job. This could mean taking a cut in pay that affects them for years, or settling for a job that doesn’t suit them well.

To avoid making drastic lifestyle decisions:

This can give you the time you need to make good choices.

As for losing your benefits, it’s easy to take dental, medical, and life insurance coverage for granted—until they’re gone. Try to negotiate a continuation of benefits as part of your severance package.

3. Take care of yourself

“It wasn’t just a case of losing an income. I lost my sense of direction and future plans. My family was totally disrupted. It was like my life was put on hold.”

Losing a job means more than losing your income and benefits. It may mean losing your sense of belonging and purpose. It can change your sense of who you are, how you think about your future, and how you feel emotionally and physically. It may mean you see yourself differently than before. Your friends may see you differently as well.

After years of the same routine, you may miss the structure that your work gave you. You may miss going every day to a place where people know you and welcome you as part of a team.

However you react to being out of work, it’s important to stay in touch with what you’re experiencing during this stressful time. Stress can change how you think or act. Recognize any self-defeating behaviours and make up your mind to replace them with positive, self-affirming behaviours. 

Stress can also change how you feel emotionally and physically. Try these other exercises to help you judge your physical well-being, state of mind, and emotions.

Manage your self-esteem and well-being

Work on your self-esteem, and do things that make you feel good about yourself.

For example, when you meet new acquaintances, don’t feel obligated to share your whole story. Perhaps try saying “I’m a [name your occupation]” rather than “I’m unemployed.”

Other things that can help with your self-esteem are:

  • Flipping through photographs of good times
  • Rereading your positive performance reviews from work
  • Looking back over any awards, certificates, and letters of recognition you’ve received
  • Imagining wonderful things happening for you
  • Doing something you enjoy

The Take Care of Yourself exercise can help you identify activities that make you feel better.

Work on your physical and mental well-being:

  • Keep your mind and body active. Nutrition and fitness are important.
  • Laugh and cry. These release endorphins that can help you feel better.
  • Take charge of your life, but don’t worry about things you can’t control.
  • Keep a good attitude and let go of negative thoughts.
  • Volunteer somewhere, take up a hobby you’ve been putting off, or take a course to keep you interested and active.
  • Stick to a routine. Get up each day with a plan.
  • Write out your plan before you go to bed so you have a reason to get up.
  • Pace yourself. Avoid trying to do or change everything at once. Give yourself time to rest and relax.
  • Stay in touch with what’s going on in your field and your community. This will help you develop new contacts and build your self-esteem.

Get professional help if you need it:

  • If your former employer offers transition services such as career or personal counselling, take advantage of them.
  • Ask your family doctor for a referral to a counsellor.
  • Call the Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642 or find other mental health services.

Above all, hold your head high! The loss of your job doesn’t mean that you’re a different person with less value or fewer skills. When you focus on the things you can change and let go of the rest, you’ll be ready to move on with your life and career.

4. Reach out for support

You are not alone, and it’s important that you don’t try to deal with your job loss alone.

Tap into your support network

Reaching out for help might be hard for you at first—especially if you’ve always seen yourself as a strong, independent person. But having a support network will make it easier for you to cope. It will help you put your problems into perspective and move on.

Members of your support network can:

  • Provide encouragement and suggestions
  • Offer feedback
  • Share personal experiences that may help you understand and deal with your own situation
  • Teach you new skills
  • Give you help and expertise
  • Send you to services and resources that can help
  • Make you laugh
  • Get your mind off your troubles and help you stay positive

Who is in your support network?

That depends on you. It could include your family and friends. It might include a group of new people you meet at an outplacement agency. It might include a minister, a member of your religious organization, a mentor, someone from your community organization, or the local coffee bar server who lends an ear.

Your supporters care about you and will gladly share your burden. Ideally, your support network should include more than 1 or 2 people. Each person may give you a different point of view on your situation and may be able to offer you different kinds of support. 

Don’t forget about your professional networks

Reaching out to other professionals for help is also important. This can include a former co-worker or a member of your professional association. It might feel awkward at first, but a professional support network can be a wealth of information and opportunity.

Manage your relationships

Losing your job can change your relationships with former colleagues, family, and friends. Different people will react in different ways when they find out you’ve lost your job. This could change your current relationships or help you form new ones.

Colleagues and co-workers

“I’ve seen some co-workers on the street and I could tell by their body language they didn’t know if they should stop and say hello. So I do anyway, and then it’s okay.”

You may have lost daily contact with your former co-workers and clients. You may miss the time you spent doing business with them or having coffee and lunch. If you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, you may feel isolated and shut out.

To help yourself manage the change:

  • Reach out to co-workers you want to stay in touch with. They may feel guilty about keeping their jobs and afraid that they could be next to lose them so are reluctant to contact you first.
  • Call your closest co-workers or meet them for coffee if you didn’t have a chance to say goodbye at work.
  • Fill your time with friends and family if your workplace was the hub of your social life.

Your immediate family

Your job loss affects the people who are closest to you: your partner, children, parents, siblings, roommates, and others. They are likely feeling stressed, worried, and uncertain.

You can help them through the transition by:

  • Talking openly to adult family members about losing your job and how it is affecting you emotionally and financially. Don’t protect them from what’s happening in your life.
  • Encouraging adult family members to share their feelings as well. Give them and yourself a chance to support each other.
  • Setting aside some time with your spouse where you don’t talk about your unemployment at all. Your spouse is also dealing with a new burden because of it and may not be getting as much support as you.
  • Explaining to your children, at a level they can understand, how not having your job could affect them. For example, they might get less allowance for a while or have to wait for other things like new bicycles or skates.  
  • Encouraging your children to share their feelings and fears. They may feel worried about your stress.

Friends and other relatives

Your friends and other relatives may also be affected by your job loss. They may want to support you, but some of them may withdraw and avoid you.

Respond based on your own needs and what each relationship means to you:

  • Decide which friends and relatives you want to be part of your support network and let them know about your situation.
  • You may wish to contact relatives or friends you haven’t seen in a while to explain what happened and then let them make the next move.
  • Do not feel that you have to contact friends and relatives especially if you think they are likely to bring you down. 
  • Ask for the support you need—whether that means giving you help or giving you emotional space. 
  • Give as well as take. For example, rejoice with your friends when good things happen to them. Don’t let your situation become the main focus of your relationships.

Thank friends and family for their concern, listen with an open mind to their advice, and then make your own decisions.

5. Stay positive and reinvest your energy

“At the time, I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. But, you know, it really turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”

There’s power in positive thinking. It can help you work through stressful situations like losing your job. Focus on doing positive things that support you on the road to better times. And think about the positive side of not being in your job anymore.

Being out of work might give you:

  • A fresh start
  • Time for self-reflection
  • More time with your partner or children
  • Severance pay you can use to start something new
  • A chance to explore new options, like changing your career, going back to school, or starting a business
  • More time for your hobbies, volunteering, and community work
  • A better salary and benefits when you start a new job

Could any of these pluses apply to you?

Try the Stay Positive exercise to put yourself in touch with your strengths and talents.

Once you’ve given yourself time to get the support you need and adjust to your situation, you’ll have the energy and positive attitude to move forward into a new future.

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