The emotional pain of losing your job and how to cope with it

Losing a job can be one of the most emotionally stressful times of your life. Here are some tips on how to cope with that stress.

COVID-19 has helped push unemployment numbers to levels that haven’t been seen in decades. An estimated 13 million Americans remain out of work six months into the pandemic, taking a toll not only on people’s finances but also on their mental health.

The emotional gamut runs from feelings of stress, worthlessness, and inferiority, to depression and even thoughts of suicide.

There is ongoing concern that the pandemic could create a “perfect storm” in terms of suicide mortality. A JAMA article published earlier this year cites economic stress, social isolation, decreased access to community support, and barriers to mental health treatment as potential factors that might lead to an increase in suicides.

Job Loss, Identity Loss

“A job provides structure”, Karen Perlman, LCSW, of Manhattan Integrative Therapy, tells WorkingNation. “That’s really a big factor for what people are struggling with during COVID is that lack of structure, as well collegiality of place, a designated place for productivity, and for recognition.”

Karen Perlman, LCSW (Photo: Manhattan Integrative Therapy)

“Many patients report feeling lost and isolated, with a sense of emptiness. For some clients or patients, they just often have difficulty imagining themselves in another position and being productive again.”

There is a grieving process that comes with the loss of one’s job. And sometimes people are stuck in that process until they are ready to reach out for help. Perlman uses cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, to help her clients navigate the emotional toll caused by unemployment.

“What it involves is actually identifying a person’s negative thoughts in relation to, in this case, their job loss. And then challenging those thoughts with a variety of methods that ultimately will lead them to developing a truer, a more positive thought,” Perlman says.

Health, exercise, and nutrition also are key components to coping with the loss of a job.

“I’m mindful about getting regular exercise and what people put into their body. It’s basic, but it’s so easy to just want to eat comfort food during COVID. Just be mindful of your health, because it affects everything, including how you feel.”

Perlman says one of the most important things people can do is to not isolate themselves.

“It’s really, really critical to stay connected with people, friends, family, whoever is meaningful in your life. It’s really important to not allow yourself to become isolated because that can be difficult to reverse course there.”

“It’s especially true during COVID when people start going down that dark hole, when they’re dealing with job loss. It can keep the depression from getting too out of control.”

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month

Psych Hub logo

National Suicide Prevention Month—held each September—is a campaign to inform the general public and health professionals about the warning signs of suicide and what can be done to help people in crisis.

WorkingNation has partnered with PsychHub, an online platform focused on reducing the stigma about seeking mental health care. We asked them to make some recommendations about how to cope with job loss.

PsychHub recommends taking steps to sustain your self-esteem and sense of identity through volunteer work or taking a class. Stick to a daily schedule that includes both job seeking and restorative activities. Be open to new roles and career paths and expand your network.

A video from PsychHub, a WorkingNation partner

“Try to avoid blaming yourself, isolating from others or relying on substance use during this time of transition. Instead, focus on how to solve problems. Be proactive about your job search and lean on your personal and professional networks. Remember unemployment won’t last forever. You can get through this.”

“If you begin to feel unusually down hopeless or depressed during your search, consider reaching out to a mental health provider for help to be connected with local organizations that provide unemployment benefits and mental health services.”

Check here for more resources for coping in the time of COVID-19.

If you know someone in crisis, please share this number.