Laid Off? Try These 7 Mental Health Tips for Coping With Unemployment

Layoffs bring financial stress and emotional turmoil. Coping strategies include self-care, acknowledging emotions, seeking support, establishing routines, setting realistic goals, finding positives, and considering therapy if symptoms persist. Prioritize your mental health during this challenging time.

Therapist Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta By Jaclyn Gulotta, LMHC

Updated on May 24, 2024

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If you’ve recently been laid off, you’re far from alone. Mass layoffs have swept the nation, and it seems that almost no industry is left unscathed.

Losing a job can hurt not only your bank account – but also your mental well-being. The aftermath of a layoff can leave you feeling a wide array of emotions, and it’s important to recognize that the impact of unemployment extends far beyond finances and career trajectories.

Here, we’ll discuss the mental health impacts of getting laid off, tips for coping with unemployment, and how to find professional help.

How Do Layoffs Affect Mental Health?

Going from having a stable full-time job to no job at all is a jarring transition. You may be left feeling shocked, upset, and scared. Along with these emotions, many factors come along with being laid off that can negatively affect mental health.

Here are five examples:

1. Financial Stress

One of the most obvious struggles with job loss is finances. You’re faced with newfound financial stress, wondering how you’ll find the money to pay your bills going forward.

Not knowing how you’re going to pay rent, make mortgage payments, or even put food on the table can be a huge burden and lead to constant worry. Unfortunately, research has found a major link between financial worries and psychological distress.

2. Feelings of Insecurity

Even if layoffs are due to major budget cuts and not personal performance, you may still find yourself asking where you went wrong, possibly resulting in a hit to your self-esteem, says Christina Kulp, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy.

You might question your skills, abilities, and value in the job market, which can take a toll on your mental well-being. Not to mention, it may make you feel less confident when you start to look for a new job.

3. Isolation and Loneliness

Getting laid off and dealing with unemployment play into isolation and loneliness. For those working in person, seeing and chatting with coworkers every day is a consistent source of social interaction. Plus, it’s common for coworkers to hang out after hours too, hitting up happy hours or team-building events. Even people who work remotely may feel lonely since they’ll have less contact (albeit virtual) with other people each day, too.

Additionally, people may end up isolating themselves due to emotions like sadness and hopelessness. Research suggests that unemployed people are 40% more likely to report loneliness.

4. Loss of Identity

Losing a job can result in an identity crisis for some. “Especially in the United States, so many folks build their identity around their work or around their jobs,” says Kulp. For these people, getting laid off and losing their professional title can feel like a loss of identity, which can be troubling.

We spend so much time working that it makes sense to feel lost when we have absolutely no job responsibilities. “It is reported that the average person spends about one-third of their life at work, so it is easy to see how work is often tied to our identity and sense of purpose,” says Michelle Coleman, a licensed professional counselor with Grow Therapy.

5. Uncertainty and Stress About the Future

After losing your job, you may have no idea what the future holds for you – and for many people, this is a very scary thought. The lack of stability and predictability can leave you feeling powerless and stressed about what’s next, leading to increased worry and anxiety. Future plans, such as vacations or goals of buying a house, may be put on hold while you focus on getting by.

When you’re ready to start looking for jobs again, this is also very stressful, as the job search process can be mentally taxing. The pressure to find new work quickly, intense competition in the job market, and facing multiple rejections can further heighten stress levels.

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7 Mental Health Tips for Coping With Unemployment

It’s not uncommon to struggle with your mental health if you’ve just been laid off. If you’re having a hard time, try these seven tips.

1. Prioritize Self-Care

It can be easy to let yourself go when you’re in a bad mood and don’t have any professional obligations. Purposefully take the time to prioritize self-care and live healthily to improve your mental and physical health. Some self-care ideas include:

2. Acknowledge and Validate Your Emotions

Especially if you tend to sweep all your problems under the rug and ignore anything negative, it’s important to allow yourself to experience and validate whatever emotions come up. Give yourself permission to feel. Acknowledge that it’s normal to experience a roller coaster of feelings, and understand that your emotions are valid responses to the situation.

“Let yourself feel what you’re experiencing. You don’t have to present an upbeat face to the rest of the world all the time. You’re allowed to be sad. You’re allowed to be insecure,” Kulp says. “You don’t want to keep those feelings locked up inside because it’ll become a pressure cooker.” You can express these emotions by talking about them to loved ones or a therapist, journaling, or making art.

3. Practice Self-Compassion

After getting laid off, many people fall into the trap of being unkind to themselves. Combat this by actively practicing self-compassion.​​ “Speak to yourself with kindness,” Coleman says. “What would you tell a friend who was laid off or unemployed?”

Be compassionate to yourself during this difficult time. Try to notice when you’re being critical of yourself or engaging in negative self-talk. Remind yourself that being laid off doesn’t define you. Instead, try to focus on your strengths and accomplishments – professional or not. Treat yourself how you would treat a loved one dealing with a layoff.

4. Lean On Your Support System

Since you’re more susceptible to loneliness at this time, make sure to lean on your loved ones when you need to. “Utilize your support system. Accept emotional support from friends and family. Do not isolate,” Coleman says.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones who can provide a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, as well as advice and words of encouragement. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with others who care about you can help reduce your stress and help you stay connected to others during this trying time.

Use your extra free time to your advantage. Kulp suggests calling that friend you haven’t spoken to in months or visiting a family member you haven’t seen in awhile. This is a chance to foster connections outside of your professional network.

5. Have Some Type of Routine

Coleman says that adding some structure and balance into your days can benefit your mental health. Remember: you don’t need to spend all day every day looking for a new job, and whatever routine you opt for doesn’t have to be rigid.

Maintaining a daily routine can provide some structure and stability during the uncertainty of unemployment. You can try to keep a consistent wake-up time and bedtime just as if you were still working. Your routine may involve setting aside some time for job searching or networking, but it should also allow time for self-care, such as exercise, fun hobbies, and socializing.

6. Set Realistic Goals

Coleman suggests staying on track by setting realistic goals, and establishing a plan to accomplish them. Break big goals into smaller, manageable action items that you can work on and achieve along the way. For example, you might make goals regarding your job search and career plan, or financial goals to create a new budget.

If your goal is to find a new job you love, it can help to set small, realistic goals along the way, such as taking a week to perfect your resume, another week to write cover letters, and so on. You may also set a goal of applying to a set number of jobs per week. Do what feels good for you.

Celebrate your accomplishments and wins along the way, no matter how small. This will help you stay motivated, feel good, and focus on your long-term plans.

7. Find the Silver Lining

They say every cloud has a silver lining, and the principle applies to layoffs, too. This is a chance to reframe how you’re thinking. Instead of completely focusing on the negatives, take some time to look at the bright side. For example, maybe you’re finally getting away from a boss you clash with or a toxic company culture. It still hurts to lose a job, but it may help to look at things you’re happy to leave behind. Or, you can see it as a welcome break from burnout.

Plus, Kulp says you can look at this as a new opportunity. For example, you can ask yourself if you’d like to change paths and look into something more interesting to you, or work towards finding a job that you’d truly love and be excited about.

When To Seek Professional Mental Health Care

It’s normal to feel stressed or upset during this time, but it’s also possible for this to veer into territory where you may need help from a mental health professional.

If it’s been more than two weeks of feeling intense sadness and being unable to find happiness and enjoyment in things you once loved, this is a red flag, Kulp says. These are potential signs of depression. Furthermore, Kulp says if you’re experiencing panic attacks, this is also an indication that you may need help.

Ultimately, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by intense emotions that interfere with your daily functioning or if you’re noticing major changes to sleep and appetite, these are additional signs that you could benefit from professional help.

Seeking therapy during this time is a proactive step towards taking care of your mental health and providing yourself with the support and tools needed to navigate the challenges of unemployment.

Finding a Therapist When Unemployed

Licensed therapists are trained and well-equipped to help clients deal with various mental health concerns. They will use evidence-based treatment modalities, like psychotherapy (AKA talk therapy), to help you get back on your feet.

When financials and health insurance (or lack thereof) are a concern while you’re unemployed, here are some tips for finding affordable therapy services:

In conclusion, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of layoffs on mental health.

But here’s the thing: you have the power to recognize these challenges and prioritize your well-being. Practice self-care, be kind to yourself, and stay connected with loved ones. Recognize when it’s time to reach out for professional mental health support and put yourself first.

Your mental health matters. By taking care of it, you’re setting yourself up for a brighter future – both in and out of the workplace.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Therapist Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta Jaclyn Gulotta, LMHC

Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta is a licensed mental health counselor with over 10 years of experience in the mental health field. She helps individuals overcome numerous issues, including stress and anxiety disorders, self-esteem issues, relationship issues, depression, behavioral issues, and grief.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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