How to manage your mental health after a layoff
Written bySuzi Sena, EdS, LPC
Last updated: 08/14/2023
Being laid off from work can be a terrible experience. The reasons why include losing our sense of professional identity, facing financial concerns, feeling like we have no control over our lives, and leaving behind close coworkers.
When I work with clients who’ve been laid off, we take a two-pronged approach. First I consider how the person is processing losing their position and getting back to a positive mindset. Then we figure out tangible steps they can take to find a new job, look for other options to generate income, or start a new chapter in their life.
If you’re among the many people to experience a job layoff, take care of yourself and start regaining confidence by following these steps.
Give yourself time to process your loss
For a few days after finding out the news, throw yourself a pity party. It’s better to express your emotions than suppress them: Let yourself feel shame, guilt, grief, sadness, or anything else that comes up. We all have a different version of a pity party—maybe yours is binge-watching Netflix or getting together with coworkers who’ve also been let go.
Taking this time may seem counterintuitive. You might be thinking, “I just lost my job, and I need to start looking for another one right away!” But it’s truly helpful to focus the first several days after a layoff on self-care.
Many of my clients rush into faulty career moves after being laid off or are just now processing emotions from a layoff that happened years ago. I often use a type of therapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to help people process their emotions around losing their job.
EMDR is especially effective at treating trauma, and being laid off can be a traumatic experience, though some people may not define it that way. They may feel as if it’s something they should just deal with. But stuffing down or compartmentalizing your emotions means that over time, they won’t exist in your conscious mind anymore—or that you won’t relate to them logically even if you are conscious of them. EMDR can help you access and process your emotions quickly, which in turn will help you move forward confidently with career decisions.
Dealing with your negative feelings and experiences right away helps you lay the foundation for building clarity and a positive mindset going forward. It’s important to pay attention to how the layoff is impacting you. Was your identity wrapped up in your career? Do you feel like you’re losing close friends or even family in your coworkers? Do you have serious financial worries?
Stay in the present moment and understand where these fears are coming from. You can get to the root cause by exploring them with a trusted friend or family member, journaling, meditating, or meeting with a career coach or a therapist. Everyone’s experience is different, so your challenges in this moment will be unique to you.
Think about what’s next (it might be time to pivot)
Depending on your financial situation and termination package, this may be an opportunity to take some personal time and evaluate if you’re happy in your career or want to try something new. Some people who’ve been laid off seize the moment to make changes they’d never considered possible before. It could be the right moment for taking a sabbatical, going back to school, changing careers, joining a startup, or even founding your own company.
Take advantage of transition services
During an employment reduction, some companies offer transition services to their departing staff. Employment transition professionals can be very helpful with résumé polishing, LinkedIn profile writing, interview prep, support groups, online application guidance, and virtual and in-person networking. They’ve also established a broad network that may be useful to you. I have clients and friends who’ve found the next step in their careers through this type of resource.
If your former company doesn’t offer employment transition services, try seeking them out on your own through local libraries, community centers, nonprofit organizations, social media groups, and career coaches and counselors.
Expand and use your network
Don’t hesitate to reach out to family and friends, as well as professional associations in your field. Personal referrals and networking are still the best way to find job opportunities and land a new role. Networking also gives you the chance to learn about other careers or variations on your current one. You may turn out to have transferable skills that can help you embark on a new path.
If you don’t have a strong network, start building one now and work to sustain it through the highs and lows of your career. This is beneficial not only for job searches but for tracking trends in your industry, consulting with colleagues, setting up informational interviews, finding support and guidance around promotions and other career developments, and becoming a subject matter expert.
Stay organized along the way
It makes a big difference to keep your job search, networking activities, and career development plans in order. If you already have your own organizational system that works, that’s great: Put in the effort to maintain it. This will help you reduce stress, be prepared for opportunities as they arise, and feel clear about the direction you’re heading in.
If this type of organization seems daunting, a number of apps and journals can help. My clients love using Trello, Evernote, and kanban boards. These tools can help you keep information in one place that’s easy to access, so you can track which opportunities are worth pursuing and which may be dead ends.
You might also consider reaching out to a friend or colleague who’s in the same boat—an accountability partner can be a fantastic asset.
Keep focusing on self-care
Even after the pity party is over and you’re ready to look for your next big thing, maintaining a self-care plan is essential. It supports your internal emotional processing and ability to maintain a positive mindset, as well as stay motivated for the tasks ahead. Remember that self-care is meant to feel good, not like another thing to check off your to-do list. Use it to nourish your soul and have experiences just for the joy of it.
Being laid off can feel difficult and demoralizing at first, but you really will get through it. Taking the actions outlined here can help make the transition much easier. Sometimes my clients who’ve experienced a layoff even look back on it as a happy moment because it opened up new doors they’d never imagined.
Try thinking of this layoff not as a setback, but as an exciting opportunity. You never know what might come next!
About the author
Suzi Sena, EdS, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor with over 20 years of experience in human resources, education, integrative mental health, career counseling, and private practice settings. She earned her master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University, her master’s in counselor education from Kean University, and her EdS degree in family and marriage therapy from The College of New Jersey. She holds numerous certifications and credentials in integrative mental health, career counseling, and human resources. She is currently in private practice, where she provides integrative mental health services to individuals and couples and consulting services to employers.
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