Job loss and mental health: How do you cope?
Unemployment can be, and often is, a shock to your whole system
Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Andrew Iles explains the importance of reflection - and then looking ahead
Accept that the job loss was out of your control, but ways of handling it might be within your control
The lack of structure to your day can be very difficult; try to create your own structure
Always get outside for some period during the day, even if it is just to walk
Seek professional support if things get too difficult for you
The pandemic has created worries for everyone, but particularly for those who have lost their jobs.
It can feel impossible to look ahead with any positivity when your personal finances, and the global economy and jobs market, are disrupted. Warnings of a significant UK recession, with the economy contracting at the fastest pace since the financial crisis, are difficult to process.
Experts say that with a job loss, you can experience some of the same feelings and stresses that you would if you were seriously injured, going through a divorce, or mourning the loss of a loved one.1 You can go through some or all of the stages of grieving just as you would with any other major loss.
Dr Andrew Iles, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory’s Oxford Wellbeing Centre, says there are ways you can try to help yourself, and stresses the importance of seeking help if you are struggling with your mental health – specifically anxiety and self-doubt.
Losing a job and mental health
Becoming unemployed is likely to provoke deep feelings of stress, as well as depression, anxiety and fear. You may also feel anger.
Dr Iles says, “Knowing that we have a stable income and have our finances in a healthy state is important for general well-being. Money is one of the most significant themes when it comes to stress. Few people can tolerate strains on their financial position without feeling worry or concern.
“Feeling secure and well provided for is a basic human need and anything which seeks to undermine that is likely to cause us to feel worried, depressed and fearful.”
The impact on mental health goes further. “Many people might describe their job or career as a vocation, for example being a nurse or a teacher. However, jobs define us all, not just these familiar members of our society. They also provide structure, job satisfaction and self-fulfillment.
“Jobs make us feel that we have purpose. For those of us who have children, it is one way we perform our duty of being a role model. Losing one’s job can lead to feelings of embarrassment and shame, or the fear that other people might see us as unsuccessful.”
How can I help myself come to terms with the situation?
When you have become unemployed, the first important step is to take a short amount of time to process the situation. During this period it is important to take care of yourself.
Be compassionate to yourself
Dr Iles says, “Ignoring the effects that job loss will have on your day-to-day life and your family will not necessarily be helpful in the long-term. This is the point at which you should be compassionate with yourself. Always allow others to support you in whatever way they can.
Don’t take the job loss personally; many factors were out of your control
“Try not to take the loss of your job personally. Remember that there are many factors that are outside of your control, which may have led to your job loss. In current times, remember that it may not have been financially viable for your job role to be retained. It is not about your work or your productivity, but about the job role and ongoing viability for someone in that position.”
Dr Iles says sleep is vitally important once you have been able to process what has happened. It may be difficult to do, but try to use apps that might help like Headspace and Calm.
After this, try to take small but practical steps.
He says this may involve updating your CV, reaching out to all your contacts in other organisations, volunteering or taking any part-time work.
How should I manage my routine when I am looking for work?
It is important to try to avoid isolation. “You might not be able to have the contact with others which you would usually enjoy, but utilise other means of staying in touch with loved ones and friends.
“Try to keep your days and evenings separate. Build a routine where possible as this will break up the hours and give a sense of order. When we have structure, we know what the parameters and the rules are, and that decreases a sense of not knowing, which then decreases anxiety.
“Maybe find an online exercise class, teach yourself a new skill, carve out specific times to touch base with friends and family, and eat meals at consistent times of day.
“Remember that your job did not define you. You aren’t only your ‘job description’.”
Avoid consuming more alcohol “as this might bring temporary relief but is likely to turn into additional problems further down the line”. He suggests if you or a family member realises you are drinking too much you should “try to get into the habit of having some days where you do not drink any alcohol at all”.
Is there anything else I can do to manage stress levels?
Dr Iles advises walks, and any other exercise. “It is all too easy to give into the feelings of lethargy and hopelessness but, if you can, push yourself to go out of the house. Daylight is just as important as maintaining a healthy diet and daily routine. Struggling with uncertainty is difficult so lower your standards for yourself, and recognise the small moments of achievement when you show resilience or strength.”
Limit the amount of time you spend reading or watching the news. Those who find themselves watching multiple reports of the same stories are likely to benefit the most from self-censorship, and not watching them.
What happens if I can’t cope?
If your stress and depression levels are consistently higher than normal, it is important to contact your GP who might suggest referring you for a talking therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or alternative therapies. Make sure you utilize any help on offer to you by your employer or anyone else, for example any retraining package or 1:1 coaching that might help you transition between jobs. Ask friends to mention to their friends, potentially via sites like LinkedIn, that you are looking for work and come highly recommended.
1 Canadian Mental Health Association website, Coping with Unemployment: www.cmha.ca