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Coping with Job Loss

Combine these healthy coping mechanisms during the grieving process to heal while looking for your next position
Coping with job loss

Working eight or more hours a day, five days a week requires a significant amount of time and energy. You have a lot invested in your work. Routines are developed, friendships are formed, and self-worth can be deeply rooted in a job. Layoff, reduction in force, down-sizing, and termination all signal the end of a job, and the news can feel as devastating as a breakup.

Fortunately, managing adversity is possible when combining healthy coping mechanisms with the grieving process to maintain self-preservation while looking for the next position.

The grieving process

- Shock and Denial — the initial feelings of shock hearing the news and the denial that the job isn't really over. Some accept the news, while others may try to go back to work the next day thinking the employer made a mistake.

- Anger — even after accepting the job is over, feelings of anger can emerge. Feeling angry can act as an energizer to size up what has happened and move on.

- Bargaining — negotiating a way back to the job or negotiating with a higher power to "do better" to get the job back.

- Depression — a natural response to a traumatic event. It can be hard to focus, sleep, or eat, and this situational depression passes naturally. Negative thinking, feeling hopeless about the future, lack of motivation, and not enjoying things previously enjoyable are signs to consult a mental health professional for an evaluation.

- Acceptance — denial, anger, bargaining, and feeling depressed about the job loss is in the past. While there can still be some anger or sadness that the loss happened, moving forward is well underway and energy is focused on finding a new job.

"Job loss and lengthy unemployment can be a major chronic stressor, threatening your sense of identity, self-worth, and financial security," says Melanie Greenberg, PhD, a psychologist in Mill Valley, CA and author of The Stress-Proof Brain. "Uncertainty about your future and worry about paying the bills can place stress on marriages and close relationships as well. Depression, anxiety, anger, and feelings of lack of control are common responses to job loss."

Reactions to job loss differ

A recent study showed unemployed participants with high scores in anxiety and depression developed poor coping strategies including self-blame, denial, or substance abuse. In another study, access to financial resources, support systems, and using healthy coping mechanisms such as meditation, distraction (taking a break from job searching and visiting local museums), and exercise helped the unemployed withstand the crisis.

How to be prepared

In addition to understanding the grieving process and healthy coping mechanisms, financial experts advise maintaining an emergency fund of three-to-six months of expenses, including the cost of workplace health insurance under COBRA — a federal law giving employees the right to pay the premiums of their workplace insurance after a qualifying separation.

While a job loss can feel devastating, it's important to remember the situation is temporary. Your talent, knowledge, and skill set is valuable no matter what happened with your previous employer, and the excitement of a new opportunity will come again.

For more support, take our wellness quiz, join our empathetic community, chat with a free, trained listener, or start affordable online therapy today.


Psychological Coping with Job Loss. Empirical Study to Contribute to the Development of Unemployed People

Navarro-Abal, Y ; Climent-Rodriguez, Ja ; Lopez-Lopez, Mj ; Gomez-Salgado, J

International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 2018 Aug, Vol.15(8)

Posted: 19 May 2019
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Julie Ford

Julie is a Michigan-based writer with a passion for mental health advocacy.

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