Coping with Job Loss


Effective coping strategies for when you’ve lost your job.

Job loss is common, and it can be one of the most difficult experiences in life. Whether you lost your job due to downsizing, termination, closure, or you felt leaving was your only choice, you are not alone in this often gut-wrenching experience. Coping with job loss involves understanding all that job loss entails and how you are affected by the loss. Understanding the impact of job loss can help you identify and take steps to recover and move forward.

The many losses of job loss

Job loss is often very painful because losing your job can threaten your financial safety. Not knowing how – or if – you’ll meet your needs for food, shelter, or healthcare can be terrifying. Losing your job may also threaten any ways you might have defined yourself by your job. It can be deeply unsettling to lose connection to ways you’ve defined yourself. Considering how often people ask one another what they do for work, it’s common for our jobs to factor into how we define ourselves. Additionally, job loss often comes with consequences beyond losing your pay and job title. You may also be encountering some or all of the associated losses below:

  • Lost sense of certainty about the future
  • Lost sense of control over what happens to you
  • Lost sense of safety in relationships
  • Lost belief in fairness or justice
  • Lost sense of importance to others
  • Lost sense of purpose in your life
  • Loss of daily routine or structure
  • Loss of work environment and relationships

Grieving job loss

Grief is the natural response to any significant, life-changing loss. Therefore, if you lost your job, you are likely grieving your loss. Grieving job loss can affect your emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and body in unique ways. You might be experiencing:

  • Anger
  • Despair
  • Fatigue
  • Sense of betrayal
  • Shame
  • Hopelessness
  • Self-blame
  • Self-doubt
  • Isolation
  • Conflict with others
  • Appetite and/or sleep difficulties

The impact of job loss may feel more intense if:

  • You are financially responsible for yourself and others
  • You greatly value your work
  • Work is especially important to your self-worth
  • You are just beginning your career
  • You are nearing the end of your career
  • This isn’t your first job loss
  • Your job prospects are limited due to economic downturns or other factors

No matter the circumstances, losing your job and grieving it can feel intense, massive, and overwhelming.

Grieving and moving forward

Some of the common responses to job loss (fatigue, hopelessness, etc.) can interfere with taking active steps toward gaining employment. For instance, it can be challenging to apply for jobs if you’re feeling defeated or exhausted. Similarly, it may be hard to appear confident and upbeat in interviews if you’re doubting yourself or distrusting others.

You may be tempted to bury your grief with frantic attempts to “get over it.” Attempts to only move on quickly may not be helpful, because grief is how we recover from loss. This means pushing grief away entirely can make it difficult to feel ready for new employment. At the same time, only grieving can make it difficult to take steps toward gaining employment. Coping with job loss effectively involves finding ways to grieve your loss and take steps to move forward, often at the same time.

Consider scheduling some time each day for grieving and some time each day for taking steps to move forward. The list of suggested coping actions below includes strategies for grieving and strategies for moving forward.

Treat yourself with care

Shame and self-blame following job loss are common. Both responses can contribute to unhelpful behaviors like substance misuse, inactivity, or over-working. Getting active and treating yourself with care (like you would treat someone you care about) are often more effective for making positive changes. Suggested actions:

  • Move your body meaningfully (swim, walk, dance, etc.) every day
  • Schedule pleasant activities (gardening, baking with friends, watching comedy, etc.)
  • Soothe your painful emotions with compassion and mindfulness
  • Eat nutritious and nourishing foods
  • Limit use of mind-altering substances
  • Relax your body to counter stress
  • If it’s an option for you, seek care from a mental health professional through extended health benefits or a low-cost community clinic

Allow yourself to grieve

Acknowledging, identifying, and expressing grief related to job loss is important for recovery and getting ready for your next job. Suggested actions:

  • Make a list of the losses you’ve incurred related to your job loss and how you’ve been affected
  • Acknowledge that your losses are real and that your pain makes sense
  • Express your grief through crying, journaling, artwork, movement, etc.
  • Lean upon your faith, spirituality, or connection to nature
  • Give yourself permission to not be your “best self” while grieving

Maintain a daily routine

People coping with job loss benefit from keeping a consistent schedule. Since grief takes time and energy, consider scheduling your day in a way that still allows for recovery. Suggested actions:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
  • Set realistic, daily intentions for what you’d like to accomplish
  • Set and maintain specific hours for job searching
  • Make time for leisure and relationships
  • Leave your home each day for walks, errands, etc.

Seek support

Getting support from others can be a source of comfort and connection during periods of hardship and isolation. Know that people often appreciate the opportunity to support someone through a difficult time. Suggested actions:

  • Tell those you trust about your job loss and how it’s affecting you
  • Ask friends and family to give you encouragement and understanding
  • Ask for practical support (resume review, networking, etc.) from mentors, friends, etc.
  • Join a support group or online community for people who are coping with job loss

Define yourself broadly

Focusing on how you can define yourself beyond your work can remind you of the many things that are important to you in life. Connecting to domains of life you value other than work (family, nature, etc.) can help broaden how you define yourself. Suggested actions:

  • Invest in your relationships with people you care about
  • Make efforts to make new friends and connections
  • Put renewed energy into an existing hobby
  • Learn about or try something new
  • Develop a new professional skill or interest

Set an intention for hope and optimism

Although it’s often hard to feel hopeful after job loss, directing your thoughts toward hope and optimism helps activate the problem-solving part of your brain. Focusing on optimistic thoughts (even just part of the time) can also help you gain a sense of control and acceptance over such a painful situation. Suggested actions:

  • Each day, notice the things that are going right in your life
  • Make a list of your professional and personal accomplishments
  • Write down the desirable characteristics of your future job
  • Encourage yourself with affirmations (positive statements) about yourself and your future

Please know that during this time of turmoil, it can be difficult to balance grieving with taking steps to move forward. Coping with job loss often isn’t straightforward. Do your best to drop any judgments toward yourself if you notice that you’re taking one step forward and two steps back at times. Recognize that your willingness to take any steps following job loss requires tremendous courage and grit.