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Hey, Colleague: What do I do after being laid off?

Research has shown losing a job is detrimental to our self-esteem because it is linked to our mental health and bank accounts. 
frustrated worker
By learning the five stages of grief, you'll be better equipped to understand your feelings.

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Hey Colleague, 

I just got laid off from the company I’ve worked for, for over a decade and I am devastated and depressed. I have bills to pay and a family to support. What do I do now?!

—Anonymous


I’m so sorry to hear. 

Don’t worry, it’s natural that you feel this way and I hope it makes you feel better that you are not alone. Remember, life is meant to ebb and flow — nothing lasts forever. You are going through a part of the grieving process.

Layoffs are hard because our jobs are tied to our self-worth so it is a traumatic experience especially when it is sudden. Employment provides us with a sense of purpose and belonging so it's only natural that you may feel down. Research has shown losing a job is detrimental to our self-esteem because it is linked to our mental health and bank accounts. 

Understanding your brain

Your brain doesn’t see what is happening in your external world but it processes many events similarly. Losing your job is akin to losing a loved one, a bad breakup or your kids moving out — the grief process is very similar. Understanding this will help you embrace the emotions you are going through and help you develop strategies to bounce back.

Our brain’s job is to keep us alive so it’s always searching for familiarity and your daily routine has been suddenly taken from you. 

What am I going to do tomorrow when I wake up?

What’s the next step?

How am I going to pay my bills now? 

The five stages of grief

Let’s run through the five stages of grief to give you a better understanding of what you are going through. Also, note that you may fluctuate between the states, experience one more strongly than another, move a step forward and go two backwards — this is natural. Healing is not linear and there is no right or wrong way. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of your mind will give you the power to bounce back quicker.

1. Denial

Denial happens because our reality has suddenly shifted and our brain is having a hard time comprehending what's happening. It may take time for our minds to adjust to a new reality. 

It’s not an easy process but denial can be beneficial because instead of reacting blindly, it forces us to take it one step at a time. Slowing down prevents us from feeling overwhelmed by our emotions. 

2. Anger

Job loss can negatively affect mental health, leading to sadness, rumination, guilt, shame, pain, stress and trauma. Anger is natural when we are experiencing extreme emotional discomfort. It is another emotional outlet that lets us express our fear without judgment or rejection so we may naturally gravitate towards it rather than feeling vulnerable.

If you feel your anger is getting out of control or you are taking it out on people around you, then it is time to reach out for professional help.

To move past this phase, learn to be vulnerable and express yourself. If you have a hard time doing this, I recommend seeking professional guidance because therapy is only therapy when it's too late! ‘Therapy’ is simply another label for ‘personal development.’

3. Bargaining

Feelings of hopelessness may cause us to react in protest by bargaining because it gives us a sense of control. During this phase, you may endure endless “what if” statements, reflect back at your job and note the times when you wished you could have done better and perhaps things would have played out differently.

4. Depression

After your imagination starts to calm down, reality settles in and you begin to truly see the present situation. This is when you may start to feel your job loss more intensely and you realize it's unavoidable.

Cognitive signs associated with depression include confusion, inability to concentrate and make decisions and aggression. You may experience a temporary lack of interest in your normal activities. Please understand that this is temporary because our brains are neuroplastic and there are strategies to overcome depression.

Don’t worry if you experience depression because it’s temporary.

Some people get over this stage on their own but there may be a time you need to enlist professional help if depression is interfering with your daily life such as not being able to take care of your basic needs such as showering or eating, or taking care of your family.

Strategies to alleviate depression:

  • Spending time and talking to loved ones.
  • Try new activities.
  • Exercise because it creates endorphins and BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which will help your brain rewire itself in positive ways.
  • Get outside as much as you can because nature heals.
  • Challenge negative thoughts. Using logic prevents you from leaping to the worst possible conclusions.
  • Create a routine to give you structure that depression often strips away.
  • Set goals and keep them small such as doing the dishes every day. Add more goals when you are ready.
  • Maintain momentum. Do something (no matter how small) every day to move forward because momentum magnifies results.

5. Acceptance

At this stage, you finally stop resisting the reality of the situation. Sadness and regret may be present but emotional survival tactics of denial, bargaining and anger are less likely to be present. You are ready to accept your new reality.

What’s next?

Now you understand the grief process and perhaps you are in the ‘acceptance’ stage, you are ready to take control of your new reality. Don’t worry, we are going to reframe your mind to make this process fun.

Survive

It’s not going to be easy but it's important to sit with your emotions instead of pushing them aside. Allow yourself to go through the stages of grief. Cry into a pillow. Rant to friends. Try to label your emotions (“I am feeling very sad and anxious right now”) because making your emotions physical gives us a better grasp on how to handle them. Write it down because journalling has life-changing benefits.

In a study, engineers who have been recently laid off were asked to write about their thoughts and feelings about the layoff. Seven months later, more than half of them had a new job — three times more compared to groups who wrote about something else or nothing at all. The researchers believed the act of expressive writing helped them work through negative feelings, thus giving off better impressions at job interviews when discussing their former employer.

Don’t sit in this stage for too long. Worry and fear will keep you stagnant so it’s essential to keep moving forward.

Reinvent yourself 

Let’s shift your mindset and reframe this time that you may never have again as a chance for personal development and reevaluate what is working and what’s not in your life. Money can always be made but you will never get your time back.

Do you dare to embrace change?

There are many ways to make money and live abundantly but the conventional nine-to-five traps us in limiting beliefs. It makes us feel safe so we aren’t willing to step outside of our comfort zones. One hundred thousand dollars a year may seem a lot to a salaried worker but you can make that much quicker if you have the skills to be an entrepreneur.

The current system doesn’t teach us how to expand our mindsets. Understandably, people are locked into mortgages or rents and have families to support. It may not happen instantly but you can begin to make small shifts in your life to create a new one you may be striving for.

  • Was there a skill you always wanted to learn?
  • Are there books you never had time to read?
  • Was there a place you’ve always wanted to go?
  • Was there a place you always wanted to move to?

Perhaps you received a severance. This will allow you a bit of time and freedom to rediscover yourself and realign with a passion that you always wanted to explore or a skill you want to develop.

Let your mind wander

This is also a time to allow yourself to “be bored” because you finally have a chance to take a break from a high-stress, fast-paced way of life. Let your brain relax. Daydream. Boredom and mind wandering is necessary for your brain to be in a rested state so it can create new ideas and perspectives.

Having free time to reevaluate your life and needs will reset your mind. You will be ready to bounce back with profound clarity and alignment. When you embody this powerful energy and drive, people are going to feel it and you are going to attract the employers you want. 

Next steps

Now is the time to polish up your resume, update your LinkedIn profiles, come up with a list of prospective employers, make some cold calls or create your own business plan.

Maybe you will land an even better job. Maybe you will start your own business where there are no limits to your salary. There is no right or wrong way because we all want different things.

In her new book, ‘Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole’, Susan Cain teaches us to turn grief into art. Everything is art. Art is the highest form of hope. Telling your story is art. Inspiring others by sharing your vulnerability is art. Learning and creating something from your experience is art. Reinventing yourself is art.

This is your time. No one is going to save you but yourself so just “keep on moving forward.”

Momentum.

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