Being Laid Off Is Brutal. Here Are 5 Ways to Support Your Mental Health.

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Being laid off is hard and takes a toll on you. Even if you knew (or suspected) it was coming, it’s still jarring and disorienting.*

If you didn’t know it was coming, it can feel like a gut punch.

Professionals who have built their career at an organization can feel a sense of betrayal, and then a complete loss of personal identity because they are no longer <title> at <organization>.

In short, being laid off is brutal.

For the past 12 years, I have been helping professionals in career transition get back to work. I assist clients with navigating the inevitable ups and downs that are part of job search and career transition. Below are some ways you can support yourself during this difficult time.

Name all of your emotions

It is likely you will feel every emotion imaginable during this time. You may feel angry, anxious, scared, relieved, confused, disoriented, and untethered. Trying to sweep it under the rug isn’t helpful, and can actually block your forward progress. It is better to acknowledge all of these feelings.

Anger and relief can coexist. And you might feel a little guilty for enjoying your time off. Most people experience a very complex stew of emotions.

Do an honest financial inventory

Few things will send you into a stress response faster than losing your job. You may find yourself worrying about how you are going to pay your rent or mortgage when you actually have money in the bank.

Or, you may not have much money in reserve and have reason for concern. I find that people drop into the scarcity mindset quickly and an honest inventory of current finances and overhead costs frequently leads to feelings of relief.

If you are having financial issues, it can be helpful to walk through a worst-case scenario and think through how you might handle the situation. Often your biggest fears may be manageable. Seeing a plan on paper can give you a sense of being in control and can decrease anxiety.

Acknowledge the grief

Sometimes bad stuff happens to good people and good employees. The way you heal from this is you look for any learnings. Did you over volunteer for things? Did you forget to document things? Did you phone it in for a little while? Did you have some health issue you didn’t explain?

Look for any learnings, and then decide to let it go.

You need to acknowledge and treat job loss as a loss, just as you would the loss of a loved one. This is a giant seismic shift in your life, and you need to treat it accordingly.

The five stages of grief by Kübler-Ross is a useful framework. David Kessler is the coauthor of two books with the legendary Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. He addresses the five stages of grief on his website,

“The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order.”

Practice talking about being laid off

Don’t reach out to your network or start interviewing for positions before you have practiced talking about what happened. If you are feeling anger or shame or whatever, you need to work on telling your story so it is factually correct and without emotion.

If your company laid off 20 percent of their staff and you were part of the downsizing, say that. If your company acquired another company and there were redundancies, say that. It happens so often these days that it doesn’t reflect badly on you, although I know it feels personal and awful.

In addition to practicing this answer, also get clear on what you are looking for in your next position with a very short synopsis of your professional background. This is what I call the “grocery line” version. It is much shorter than what you would use in an actual job interview situation.

Example: I am an operations executive with a background in advertising and marketing technology. I am looking for a role at a fast-growth technology company, helping them establish systems and processes that support scale.

Do all of this BEFORE you start reaching out to your network. You don’t want to burn through your network prematurely.

Consider what has gotten better

Even as you may be experiencing some financial stress, other aspects of your life may have gotten better. If you were in a job that you didn’t like, or were ready to make a change but didn’t leave for whatever reason, you may actually be relieved the decision has been made for you.

If you were overworking for weeks / months, you may now have time to reconnect with yourself, friends, and family. You may start exercising and eating better.

If you were in a toxic work environment, you may feel your stress level go down and you may actually be able to sleep at night.

Take time to evaluate next steps

Time in career transition is awkward, but on the other side, you might see it as valuable. Have you been considering a career change or industry shift? Now might be the perfect time for that.

Do you know you need to learn a new technology or get a certification? Perhaps that would be a great use of this time.

Your knee-jerk reaction may be to immediately start applying for what you had been doing previously. If you liked your job and industry, that can be fine. However, if you are doing that because you don’t think your skills or expertise could translate to something you want to do more, then you should talk with a professional.

You only know what you have personally experienced or what someone close to you has experienced. You won’t be able to see past your own blinders and limiting beliefs.

Also, I would caution you to take all the fear-mongering that you see online with a grain of salt. The past two years have blown all the rules up. Figure out what you want and then map a plan to get it.

In my experience, you can usually create whatever you want. Good luck!

P.S. If you are having trouble thinking through next steps, you can download a copy of my eBook Re-Launch You: Discovering Your Point B and Embracing Possibility here.

* This was originally published on the Mental Health Community blog here.