Losing Your Job Is No Reason to Lose Yourself—so Here’s How to Deal
“It’s traumatic to get fired,” says clinical psychologist Monica O’Neal, PsyD. “Even if you can anticipate it, it’s traumatic.”
And as it goes with any trauma, a grieving process follows. While it's easy to get bogged down with feelings of disappointment, sadness, and anxiety during this uncertain time, it’s vital not to lose yourself after you lose your job. And, armed with the right knowledge and tips, you'll be able to ensure that doesn't happen.
Learn tactics to stay mentally afloat among a sea of unemployment emotions.
Feel the feelings, but also seek support
First things first: There is no “right way” to react to a job loss. Over the course of days and even weeks following, you may cycle through a range of emotions—and that’s totally okay.
“It varies from anger to vengefulness to being totally livid with their boss to feeling disenchantment or disillusionment,” says David Wiacek, a certified professional career coach, of how his clients tend to feel in the days after losing a job. “If they call me a week or two later, depression symptoms usually start creeping in, along with anxiety about the future.”
Dr. O’Neal adds that how a person handles news of job loss likely depends on whether they were laid off or fired. “When someone is laid off, typically there’s an ability to disassociate it from themselves and their actual performance because it’s not just them losing the job. It’s usually a group of people, so it becomes much more of a diffused emotional toll,” she says. “Being fired can feel like a massive narcissistic injury for most people. It can feel like a real failure on their part, and oftentimes it might be a real challenge to even process it because there’s so much shame wrapped up in it.”
But it is important, Dr. O’Neal explains, to put in that hard work to process it. In fact, she likens a job loss to a breakup: If you don’t reflect on your actions and mistakes, you’re much more likely to go into the next relationship (or in this case, your next job) with the same issues, creating a vicious cycle.
She suggests reaching out to a trusted person, whether that's a former colleague or supervisor or therapist, to help you uncover behavioral patterns standing between you and your goals. If, after a couple of weeks, you’re still in a deep funk, unable to get out of bed or hang out with friends, it’s definitely time to seek professional help, says Dr. O’Neal.
Say, "I am not my job," then repeat
When you lose your job, it’s easy to feel like you’ve lost a piece of your identity: After all, in a typical workweek, you probably spend more time at the office than you do with your best friend or your S.O. But this downtime between jobs can be great for pursuing other interests and really introspecting about what you want your career path to look like over the course of the next 5, 10, or 20 years. “Use the opportunity of a lost job to find yourself,” says Dr. O’Neal, who herself used a professional speed bump as the catalyst to enroll in graduate school and become a psychologist.
Downtime between jobs can be great for pursuing other interests and really introspecting about what you want your career path to look like over the course of the next 5, 10, or 20 years.
If, however, you don’t have the means to go weeks without a paycheck, you can still soul search while working a temporary gig. “I think there is a stigma [surrounding temp work, but it provides the opportunity] to realize that you are not your job," says Wiacek. "Your job can just be the way to pay the bills, and you can be fulfilled outside of your job.”
Biding time with temporary, freelance, or consulting work can mean the difference between jumping into a not-so-great next job out of anxiety over paying the bills versus holding out for a life-changing opportunity.
Work on physical fitness to improve mental fitness
You probably knew this advice was coming: Get yourself to the weight room or the tennis courts or the hiking trails or the yoga studio, ASAP.
"A healthy body helps support mental resilience, which is indispensable in getting over a job loss and embarking upon a successful job search.” —David Wiacek, career coach
“Often my clients have been working hard for years with little to no rest, inside an office with minimal natural light, and with minimal physical movement,” says Wiacek. “Sometimes unemployment lets clients hit a reset button and reminds them to start listening to their most important asset—their physical body. A healthy body helps support mental resilience, which is indispensable in getting over a job loss and embarking upon a successful job search.”
Dr. O’Neal agrees, noting the positive effects of achieving fitness goals you set for yourself. “Sometimes just feeling better in your body can also help you feel better about yourself and your capabilities.”
And then, when you’re feeling fit and fantastic, you can leverage those endorphins to dust off the ole résumé, tweak that LinkedIn profile, and score the new job of your dreams.
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