Knowing how to survive a layoff is one thing and that on its own can be a shock to the system. But remaining unemployed for an extended period (such as during a pandemic) in a society that values productivity and monetary gain above many other measures as success can wreak havoc on our self-view.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Jamal Lake, of the Bewell Health Clinic in Toronto shared these insights on how we can cope; from the financial to the mental and emotional impacts, here are some steps we can take.
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Know you will feel the impact on many fronts
Unemployment is not just an economic and financial burden. It can impact our health too, including our mental and emotional health. While getting laid off can present you with a sudden shock, the impact of prolonged unemployment can seep in over time. “Unemployment can have a significant negative effect on a person’s self-esteem and identity. A person may begin to question their abilities to perform their role, to find more work, to support themselves/their family and ultimately find meaning in their lives. As a result, unemployment has been linked to an increase in depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide,” says Dr. Lake. “The impact of unemployment on a person's mental health can range greatly from mild to severe and will be different for each one of us depending on quite a few initial factors,” says Dr. Lake. These factors include:
- Financial position and support
- Social and community network
- Career/job satisfaction
- Education and skills
- Previous mental health issues
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In addition to feeling a sense of loss, it’s not uncommon to feel lost. Dr. Lake advises taking time to identify and validate your feelings: “What did it mean to you to lose your job? No matter what you’re feeling, remember that it is valid to feel that way and you are not alone. Take a deep breath. Step back for a moment. Accept that what you're feeling is normal. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can under the circumstances.” Are there any lessons to glean from this experience? This situation may bring a silver lining that allows you to pause and take stock of where you are currently at the macro level in your career and use this as a reset opportunity for where you wish to go. If you have the energy and resources, you may also want to ask yourself if it is time for a career pivot or a side hustle?
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Get your paperwork in order
If you have any remaining paperwork that needs to be sorted out, set time aside to take care of this task. Locate your pay stubs and any information that may be relevant for benefit claims and file them away either digitally, or in a physical file folder. Just make sure you label everything clearly, and set it aside somewhere where it’s easy to find. Similarly, this is a good time to create or reevaluate your budget, says Dr. Lake. “This can help you identify where and how you spend your money and know where you may need to cut costs. This may help reduce some of the anxiety about your ability to cover costs in the short-term while you wait to find work.” It would be a good idea to track your spending and regularly check in on your finances.
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Apply for Employment Insurance and any other benefits
You’re not alone on this experience and for this reason, the government has set aside resources to support those in the same situation. If you haven’t done so already, apply for Employment Insurance and other benefits.
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Identify your unique values and skills
Recognize your innate worth. This situation doesn’t define you. While it’s easy to feel unappreciated in a situation such as this, know that some factors are beyond your control (i.e. a global pandemic). Take some time to reflect on what skills and aptitudes you have, your passions, your existing knowledge and experience, and what you know you can count on within yourself. Identify examples of professional successes you’ve had. It may be helpful to write these out and refer to them as you look for employment.
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Get yourself out there
Understandably, this is easier said than done in the middle of a pandemic, but if you haven’t done so already, reach out to friends and family – even virtually; update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Get in touch with former colleagues and network for new employment, and let them know you’re ready for your next steps when the time is right. Join clubs, seek a mentor, even virtually, and get involved in your community. “Carve out consistent time to be professionally productive: This can include spending reasonable blocks of time in your day fine-tuning your resume or CV, participating in online networking groups,” says Dr. Lake.
See also: How to make your resume stand out.
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Level up your skills
If you find yourself in a holding pattern with extra time, you may want to consider levelling up any skills that may be in demand in your particular industry or profession. Dr. Lake suggests trying, “Strengthening [your] skills/knowledge through online programs/podcasts/seminars. This can help you to gain some forward momentum in your professional life and could increase chances of standing out to employers and getting an interview.”
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Spend your time and energy intentionally
Without the structure of a workday, you may feel lost sense of purpose or aimlessness. Nevertheless, set yourself up for success by creating a routine for yourself so you can focus your time and energy intentionally into areas that will benefit you and that will make transitioning back to work easier. “When we’re feeling down and out or anxious it is easy to let our basic needs slip like getting proper sleep, eating well, hygiene exercise/movement and social connections. Try to make these a priority and consistent in your day,” cautions Dr. Lake.
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Take care of yourself
“Tame self-critical thoughts and be more self compassionate,” advises Dr. Lake. “Being harsh on yourself may feel like a way to motivate but usually will just make us feel worse. If you are often questioning about what you could have done differently or comparing yourself to others then you likely aren’t focusing on your own positive qualities and resilience.” Instead, he recommends asking yourself, “What would I say to someone I deeply care about if they were going through this right now and thinking these thoughts?” Try to use this way of thinking for yourself, he says. Additionally, maintain healthy routines. Focus on getting a proper night’s rest and staying active, eat well and limit alcohol and tobacco. Find outlets you enjoy and do something that nourishes your spirit and helps you see the best of the world. Basically, “Engaging in the little things that make you feel good: Try to find some joy in an activity like cooking, writing/drawing, reading, music, favourite show etc. Whatever activity you feel you can draw a bit of energy from, make it part of your daily or weekly schedule,” recommends Dr. Lake.
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Know you don’t have to do it alone
“The continued uncertainty of when the pandemic will end and lockdowns we are experiencing can affect a person who is unemployed by increasing frustration/anger and levels of hopelessness about finding or even continuing to look for work,” says Dr. Lake. Even when we are doing our best, we may need additional support to deal with these feelings, and even in times of social isolation and lockdowns, know you don’t have to bear these challenges totally alone. Some common signs that you may need additional supports include:
- Constant feelings of hopelessness
- Increased anxiety/stress about future and taking care of self or others
- Feeling lost, as if you don't know what to do next
- Low motivation and energy
- Decreased sense of independence/autonomy
- Intense feelings of grief/loss, anger and sadness