Managing the Stress of Layoff & Unemployment

When a person's job ends involuntarily, it's normal to feel a sense of loss and the need to take some time to begin to heal.

At least temporarily, you may have lost many things, including your daily work, your work associations, a structure for your days, financial security, and status. Even though your job loss is not your fault, it is common to feel some loss of self-esteem, or that somehow you have failed, and it can be hard to tell your friends and family.

Loss and the Grieving Process

Loss triggers a grieving process that may include the stages of shock and denial, anger, resistance, sadness, and finally, acceptance:

  • Shock and denial: Even though you may have known for some time that the job would end, it is still a shock when you get the actual message. It will take some time to absorb the reality of the news.
  • Anger: You may feel anger toward yourself, your employer, and even your family--thoughts like "How could they do this to me?" or "Why did I work so hard for them?" Such thoughts and feelings are a normal part of the grief process.
  • Resistance: Sometimes you find yourself resisting the inevitability of the layoff, thinking: "If I offer to reduce my hours or cut my pay, they will take me back." In time you will become more realistic.
  • Sadness: It is normal to experience feelings of sadness and to want to withdraw after a job loss. However, if your job search is extended or you have other predisposing factors, you may become vulnerable to clinical depression. Getting professional help is critical as depression can interfere with your energy and effectiveness in finding a job.
  • Acceptance: Finally, we all work through loss and grief in our own way and come to accept what has happened and move on. You may cycle back and forth between stages. Typically you will have good days and bad days as if you are on an emotional roller coaster. Be patient with yourself and the process; eventually things will even out.

Ways to Manage the Stress of Job Loss

  • Give yourself time to adjust. Allow yourself some time to absorb what has happened--to deal with the initial emotional reactions of yourself and significant others. Be open to support from and discussions with those at work.
  • Don't be ashamed. The one good thing about all the jobs that have been lost in the last decades is that there is very little if any stigma attached to losing your job due to economic factors. It's not a matter of personal failure to lose one's job due to cutbacks.
  • Tell your family and friends as soon as possible. By opening up to those who care about you, you will immediately gain support from the most important people in your life. They may also be a source of job information.
  • Keep open communication with your significant others. Spouses, partners, and children are also affected by your job loss. Give them permission to talk about their reactions and concerns. Have a family meeting to discuss how the family will cope and get everyone's ideas. Explain the economic forces that led to the job loss. Reassure children that the family will work together to get through this time.
  • Think of the job loss as a temporary setback. The way we frame what happens to us has everything to do with how we cope and move forward. Success in any endeavor depends on how one views setbacks in life. This is a challenge, not a failure or the end of the world. Don't compare yourself with others who have lost their job--everyone deals with it differently. Think positively: "I can handle this one step at a time".
  • Join a job seeker's support group. No one can understand what you are going through better than your peers. Often you can share thoughts and feelings in a support group that you cannot share elsewhere. You will also get good advice and decrease any sense of isolation.
  • Use every community and networking resource available. Now is not the time to try to go it alone. Reach out and use everything that is offered to you by UC Davis and the community. A crisis like this gives you the opportunity and permission to get help.
  • Share your feelings with trusted family and friends. Admit to significant others and your support system your feelings of anger, fear, frustration, and sadness. It will help you regulate your actions and stay motivated. Keeping a written journal of how you feel and what is happening can be a big release for your feelings.
  • Deal with your fears directly. One good way to reduce your anxiety is to clarify what you are most afraid of and begin to work on a plan to address the fear--for example, the worry that you will never find another job. To paraphrase the famous statement, the biggest thing we have to fear is fear itself, and the way it paralyzes us and pulls us down.
  • Avoid negative people and ways of thinking. Spend time with people who are confident in you and your future and who have worked through their own crises in a positive manner. Talk to those who have constructive ideas and advice. Notice the positive side of unemployment and enjoy it, such as more time for hobbies or family, no commute.
  • Do what you can and accept what you cannot change. Remember the serenity prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Despite all your hard work in searching for a job, many other factors will also determine when you find work.
  • Take care of your health. Sleep, exercise, relaxation, and good nutrition are more important than ever during the stress of unemployment. Use the extra time to set up that exercise program you never had time for when you were working so hard. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol to deal with stress. Take scheduled breaks from your job search and allow time for fun.
  • Get professional help, when needed. If you are feeling very sad and in despair and it does not improve over time and/or if you are feeling paralyzed by anxiety or your sleep is consistently disturbed, get the help of a mental health professional. Unemployment can lead to relationship problems; you may need the help of a couples or family counselor to deal with the stress of unemployment.

ASAP staff are available to meet with employees who are experiencing the personal and work related stress of layoffs. You can make an appointment with ASAP at UC Davis or UC Davis Health locations.