Handling Your Job Loss

While some people may see a job loss as a challenge which opens up new opportunities, most associate job loss with strong negative emotions. It is natural to have some negative feelings (especially at first) after a job loss, and that most people experience them. Here are some feelings and experiences that you may have after losing your job:

  • Loss of professional identity: Professionals identify strongly with their careers. Unemployment can often lead to a loss of self–esteem. Being employed brings respect in the community and in the family. When a job is lost, part of your sense of self may be lost as well.
  • Loss of a network: The loss may be worse when your social life has been strongly linked to the job. Many ongoing “work friendships” are suddenly halted. Old friends and colleagues often don’t call because they feel awkward or don’t know what to say. Many don’t want to be reminded of what could happen to them. Also, when work and social activities mix, such as with company picnics and dinner parties, the job loss can be hard for all family members who participated in such activities.
  • Emotional unpreparedness: Those who have never been unemployed may not be emotionally prepared for job loss and may be devastated when it happens. It is natural and appropriate to feel this way. You might notice that some people you know don’t take their job loss as hard as you have taken it. They might be more prepared for this time of uncertainty. Studies show that those who change jobs frequently, or who are in occupations prone to cyclic unemployment, suffer far less emotional impact after job loss than those who have been steadily employed and who are unprepared for cutbacks.



Psychologists have found that people often have an easier time dealing with loss if they know what feelings they might experience during the “grieving process.” Grief doesn’t usually overwhelm us all at once; it usually is experienced in stages. The stages of loss or grief may include:

  • Shock – you may not be fully aware of what has happened.
  • Denial usually comes next – you cannot believe that the loss is true.
  • Relief then enters the picture for some, and you feel a burden has lifted and opportunity awaits.
  • Anger often follows – you blame (often without reason) those you think might be responsible, including yourself.
  • Depression may set in some time later, when you realize the reality of the loss.
  • Acceptance is the final stage of the process – you come to terms with the loss and get the energy and desire to move beyond it. The “acceptance” stage is the best place to be when starting a job search, but you might not have the luxury of waiting until this point to begin your search.


It is helpful to monitor your reactions and control any adverse emotions. While you may well experience the stages of grief outlined above, they may not necessarily be in the order mentioned. If you experience strong negative emotions during these stages, you may need a break from your job search until you reach the acceptance stage. Most people can function in the earlier stages, as long as they remain aware of their feelings and are able to keep these emotions from affecting their activities. For example, if you're still in your “angry” stage, it’s important to understand that expressing your anger during a job interview could be self–defeating.

Below are some tips you might want to follow during the job search process to keep yourself emotionally healthy and motivated to look for work.


Keep Healthy

Your body will be stressed to the limit as the challenges ahead test your strength and endurance. It is important to keep healthy and in shape. Try to:

  • Eat properly. Eating right can help you stay fit and healthy. How you look and your sense of self–esteem can be affected by your eating habits. It is very easy to snack on junk food when you’re home all day. Take time to plan your meals and snacks so they are well balanced and nutritious. Eating properly will help you keep the good attitude you need during your job search.
  • Exercise. Include some form of exercise as part of your daily activities. Regular exercise reduces stress and depression and prevents a sense of lethargy. It can really help you get through those tough days.
  • Allow Time For Fun. When you’re planning your time, be sure to build fun and relaxation into your plans. You are allowed to enjoy life even if you are unemployed. Keep a list of activities or tasks that you want to accomplish such as volunteer work, repairs around the house, or hobbies. When free time develops, you can refer to the list and have lots of things to do.


College Graduates

People have always believed that finishing college would guarantee a good job and a solid future. Graduates looking for work in a tight labor market may experience just the opposite – you may have difficulty finding a professional job, and the competition may be stiff, as more experienced, out–of–work professionals are vying for the same jobs. Rejection in the job search process can prove very frustrating. Whether you were laid off from your last job or are a recent college graduate, being unemployed and looking for work may prove emotionally difficult. You may experience periods of stress, depression or erosion of self–esteem along the way.


Family Issues

Unemployment is a stressful time for the entire family. Your family may experience adverse reactions to your job loss. For them, your unemployment means the loss of income and the fear of an uncertain future. They are also worry about your happiness. Here are some ways you can interact with your family to get through this tough time:

  • Do not attempt to “shoulder” your problems alone. Try to be open with family members even though it is difficult. Discussions about your job search and the feelings you have allow your family to work as a group and support one another.
  • Talk to your family. Let them know your plans and activities. Share with them how you will be spending your time. Discuss what additional family responsibilities you can take on when your job search day is complete. Add these new responsibilities to your schedule.
  • Listen to your family. Find out their concerns and their suggestions. Perhaps there are ways they can assist you.
  • Build family spirit. You will need a great deal of support from your family in the months ahead, but they will also need yours.
  • Seek outside help. Join a family support group. Many community centers, mental health agencies and colleges have support groups for the unemployed and their families. These groups can provide a place to let off steam and share frustrations. They can also be a place to get ideas on how to survive this difficult period. More information about support groups is presented later in this chapter.

Helping Children

Children may be deeply affected by a parent’s unemployment. It is important for them to know what has happened and how it will affect the family. However, try not to overburden them with the responsibility of too many of the emotional or financial details.

  • Keep an open dialogue with your children. Letting them know what is really going on is vital. Children have a way of imagining the worst when they write their own “scripts,” so the facts can actually be far less devastating than what they envision.
  • Make sure your children know it’s not anybody’s fault. Children may not understand about job loss and immediately think that you did something wrong to cause it. Or, they may feel that somehow they are responsible or financially burdensome. They need reassurance in these matters, regardless of their age.
  • Children need to feel they are helping. They want to help and having them do something like taking a cut in allowance, deferring expensive purchases, or getting an after–school job can make them feel as if they are part of the team. Some experts suggest that it can be useful to alert the school counselor to your unemployment so that they can watch the children for problems at school before the problems become serious.


Coping with Stress

Stress inevitably will be part of the job search process. Here are some coping mechanisms that can help you deal with stress.

  • Identify your “stressors,” then think of possible ways to handle each one. Can some demands be altered, lessened or postponed? Can you live with any of them just as they are? Are there some that you might be able to deal with more effectively?
  • Set priorities. Deal with the most pressing needs or changes first. You cannot handle everything at once.
  • Establish a workable schedule. When you set a schedule for yourself, make sure it is one which can be achieved. As you perform your tasks, you will feel a sense of control and accomplishment.
  • Reduce stress. Learn relaxation techniques, or other stress–reduction techniques. This can be as simple as sitting in a chair, closing your eyes, taking a deep breath and breathing out slowly while imagining all the tension going out with your breath. There are a number of other methods, including listening to relaxation tapes, which may help you cope with stress more effectively.
  • Avoid isolation. Keep in touch with your friends, even former coworkers, if you can do that comfortably. Unemployed individuals often feel a sense of isolation and loneliness. See your friends; talk with them; socialize with them. You are the same person you were before unemployment. The same goes for the activities that you may have enjoyed in the past. Evaluate them. Which can you afford to continue? If you find that your old hobbies or activities can’t be part of your new budget scheme, perhaps you can substitute new activities that are less costly.
  • Join a support group. No matter how understanding or caring your family or friends might be, they may not be able to understand all that you’re going through and you might be able to find help and understanding at a job–seeking support group. These groups consist of people who are going through the same experiences and emotions you are. Many groups also share tips on job opportunities, as well as feedback on ways to deal more effectively in the job search process.


Positive Mental Attitude Essential

Here are some ways you can build your self–esteem and avoid depression:

  • List your positives. Make a list of your positive qualities and your successes. This list is always easier to make when you are feeling good about yourself. Perhaps you can enlist the assistance of a close friend or caring relative, or wait for a sunnier moment.
  • Replay your positives. Once you have made this list, replay the positives in your mind frequently. Associate the replay with an activity you do often; for example, you might review the list in your mind every time you go to the refrigerator!
  • Use the list before performing difficult tasks. Review the list when you are feeling down or to give you energy before you attempt some difficult task.
  • Recall successes. Take time every day to recall a success.
  • Use realistic standards. Avoid the trap of evaluating yourself using impossible standards that come from others. You are in a particular phase of your life; don’t dwell on what you think society regards as success. Remind yourself that success will again be yours.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know your strengths. What things are you good at? What skills do you have? Do you need to learn new skills? Everyone has limitations. What are yours? Are there certain job duties that are just not right for you and that you might want to avoid? Balance your limitations against your strong skills so that you don’t let the negatives eat at your self–esteem. Incorporate this knowledge into your planning.
  • Picture success. Practice visualizing positive results or outcomes and view them in your mind before the event. Play out the scene in your imagination and picture yourself successful in whatever you’re about to attempt.
  • Build success. Make a “to do” list. Include small, achievable tasks. Divide the tasks on your list and make a list for every day so you will have some “successes” daily.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Socialize with family and friends who are supportive. You want to be around people who will “pick you up,” not “knock you down.” You know who your fans are. Try to find time to be around them. It can really make you feel good.
  • Volunteer. Give something of yourself to others through volunteer work. It will help you to feel more worthwhile, and may actually give you new skills.


A New Beginning

Are you very depressed? As hard as it is to be out of work, it also can be a new beginning. A new direction may emerge which will change your life in positive ways. This may be a good time to re–evaluate your attitudes and outlook.

  • Live in the present. The past is over and you cannot change it. Learn from your mistakes and use that knowledge to plan for the future – then let the past go. Don’t dwell on it or relive it over and over. Don't be overpowered by guilt.
  • Take responsibility for yourself. Try not to complain or blame others. Save your energy for activities that result in positive experiences.
  • Learn to accept what you cannot change. However, realize that in most situations, you do have some control. Your reactions and your behavior are in your control and will often influence the outcome of events.
  • Keep the job search under your own command. This will give you a sense of control and prevent passivity from setting in. Enlist everyone’s aid in your job search, but make sure you do most of the work.
  • Talk things out with confidants. Admit how you feel. For example, if you realize you’re angry, find a positive way to vent it, perhaps through exercise.
  • Face your fears, and try to pinpoint them. “Naming the enemy” is the best strategy for relieving the vague feeling of anxiety. Facing what you actually fear you can see how realistic your fears are.
  • Think creatively, stay flexible, take risks and don’t be afraid of failure. Try not to take rejection personally. Think of it as information that will help you later in your search. Take criticism as a way to learn more about yourself. Keep plugging away at the job search despite those inevitable setbacks. Most important, forget magic – what lies ahead is hard work!


Professional Help?

If your depression won’t go away, or leads you to self–destructive behaviors such as abuse of alcohol/drugs, you may wish to consider asking a professional for help. Many people who have never sought professional assistance before find that in a time of crisis it really helps to have someone to listen and who can give needed aid. Consult your local mental health clinics, social services agencies or professional counselors for help for yourself and family members who are affected by your unemployment. Some assistance may be covered by your health insurance or, if you do not have insurance, counseling is often available on a “sliding scale” fee based on income.


Your program is here to help you along the journey of life. No situation is too big or too small. When you and your family members need assistance, reach out anytime and we will help get you on the right path to meet your needs.




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