Coping with the stress of job loss

Is there a “normal” reaction to job loss? In the evaluation of human behavior, the word “normal” is interpreted to mean a wide range, within a scope of limits. The same wide range of “normal” applies to people’s reactions to a layoff.

For some people who find themselves victim of a layoff, their job isn’t just “work,” it’s a part of their identity. While, if it’s kept in perspective, that kind of feeling about a job is healthy, a layoff can make them feel lost, placing them in a struggle over whether to redefine themselves — especially if it seems as if their industry won’t be rebounding any time soon.

If those people who lose their job are a family’s breadwinner, the loss can crush their identity as “the provider,” placing sizable guilt and feelings of failure on them. Usually they aren’t sharing these feelings of failure, and will need someone to cue them that it is not their fault and that they are part of a much bigger picture — namely, the economic downturn.

Added to this is the strain felt by the laid-off person’s partner, who can feel a flood of emotions about being the one to carry the financial weight, often with limited ability to increase their own income. The result can make it difficult for the employed partner to maintain empathy for the laid-off partner, since now the employed partner is the one in need of support too.

It’s common too for laid-off employees to go through the stages of loss, namely shock, denial, bargaining, anger, sadness and acceptance. Some people go through these stages relatively quickly, others can take a long time.

It’s very normal to Ping-Pong back and forth between these stages. Families and friends should be aware that every day is not going to be the same for someone laid off from a job and should focus instead on honoring the process of loss, and offering support and encouragement.

One rule for laid-off employees is: don’t kick yourself when you’re down. Honor the process that you’re going through and keep in the forefront of your mind that whatever feelings you experience, regardless of their intensity, feelings are temporary.

In helping yourself cope, it’s a good idea to get back to basics: eat healthy, exercise, get adequate sleep. Get out and socialize, work on hobbies or activities that you find enjoyable. Although you may have days or periods of wanting to withdraw or do nothing, push yourself to accept invitations or to connect with others who can be your support system.

Opt for healthy coping strategies, such as writing, exercising, reading or talking out your thoughts and concerns.

See your physician or a counselor if your emotional state interferes with your functioning, or if others are expressing concerns about your well-being.

Try to get on a new daily schedule as soon as possible. Maintaining some sort of routine is important for both for our bodies to stay on a timetable and for obtaining feelings of accomplishment.

One of the most uncomfortable states for human beings is a state of “unknowing.” We all need some level of predictability in our lives. While some people will “roll with the punches,” and look for brighter skies and better opportunity, others, who need a high level of structure and predictability, can feel as if the rug were just pulled out from under them, making it hard to function.

The “unknown” is scary for us all, but by seeking and offering support, we can find solace in knowing we aren’t alone.

Heidi Page, MSW, has a private counseling practice and co-owns Platinum Principle Training and Development LLC, Manchester, a firm that promotes workplace harmony. She can be reached at 603-391-2395 or