What To Do When You Get Laid Off: How To Protect Your Health And Move Forward

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated July 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

A layoff can be a challenging life event that can cause significant distress, effecting your mental health. It can be detrimental to individuals and their families in a number of ways, and various factors can make it more or less so. 

The uncertainty and financial strain that layoffs often cause can weigh on the mind and the body, and if left unaddressed, these consequences can cause further hardships. However, there are ways to manage the mental distress resulting from job loss and move forward.

Below, we’ll discuss the possible effects a person may experience after being laid off, as well as what someone can do to care for themselves while going through this experience, whether it is new to you, or you are familiar already with losing a job. Whether you have experience a layoff previously or not, layoffs usually cause workers’ mental stress.

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How does being laid off affect your mental health?

A job loss can affect a person’s mental health and emotional well-being in a number of ways. The following are some of the possible effects:

Feelings of depression

Some research has demonstrated a link between layoffs or job loss and increases in depression. Layoffs affect the workers’ mental health, as well as their family and friends. For instance, one such study found that “involuntary job loss is associated with significantly poorer overall self-rated health and more depressive symptoms,” even after adjusting for numerous other factors.

Signs of depression can include the loss of interest in activities one would typically enjoy; a persistent low mood; decreased energy or fatigue; irritability; feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt; changes in appetite; and changes in sleep.

Depression can affect focus, motivation, self-perception, and more, which may make this time additionally challenging. If this is something you are experiencing, know that help is available; it’s important to seek help to maintain your health after losing your job. Common treatment options for depression include therapy, medications, or a combination of the two.

Stress and other health impacts

In addition, a number of other mental, emotional, and physical reactions can come as a result of a layoff. These may include feelings of shock or disbelief, anger, fear, difficulties with self-esteem, irritability, and shame. The fear and stress that often present as a result of a layoff can be a challenge to manage. If not mitigated, ongoing or chronic stress can lead to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension, heart disease, and trouble sleeping. A layoff in and of itself may also lead to changes in a person’s daily routines, including those that relate to sleep habits, such as sleeping too much or too little.

Alcohol consumption

While there are various findings across studies on the topic of layoffs, underemployment, and alcohol, it is possible for underemployment or unemployment to lead to an increase in alcohol use. Excessive alcohol intake can lead to an increased risk of various mental and physical health concerns or conditions, including various types of cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, and depression, and research shows that it contributes to a large number of deaths around the globe every year.

This is not an exhaustive list of the impacts an individual and their family may experience following a layoff. Worsening physical health and a change in one’s attitude surrounding work, especially as it relates to job safety, are also possible results of layoffs.

Tips for taking care of yourself after a layoff

Experiencing a layoff can be challenging in a number of ways, and it can be important to be kind to yourself throughout the process and give yourself the time you need to feel your emotions and adjust. As you try to take care of yourself after a layoff, below are a few tips to consider:

  1. Make a tangible plan

A layoff can be a distressing event, and it’s understandable that there may be some level of stress and overwhelm. For some, it may help to tackle these stressors head-on by coming up with a tangible plan for how to navigate this period. It may be useful to create a short-term plan and a long-term plan to help you determine how you will get your needs met and work toward greater stability and even prosperity. This could include creating a daily schedule for navigating the job search or creating a plan for seeking additional financial assistance if needed.

  1. Take steps toward where you want to be

If you are looking for a new job and find it overwhelming, or if you find that you face difficulties with motivation or execution, it may help to break down large goals—like finding a job—into smaller ones. This could mean going to a hiring event, filling out an application online, making a phone call, reaching out to an old connection, revising your resume, and preparing for an interview. You can try breaking down the big-picture goal into smaller steps and focus on taking just one step at a time.

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  1. Adjust your inner dialogue and focus on positive self-talk

Positive self-talk is a skill that we can all benefit from, and during times of distress, especially those that may affect self-esteem, it can be particularly important. You might consider taking some time to become aware of your thought patterns and inner dialogue. If self-critical thoughts show up (e.g., “I won’t find a job” or “I’m not qualified for that job”), consider challenging and reframing them. As an example, you might think instead, “A layoff is a common experience, and I have a range of skills and strengths in the workplace. This does not mean that I am not good at what I do or that I won’t be valued at another company.”

Sometimes there are mass layoffs within a company, or an industry—from tech companies to banks, to many others—and sometimes layoffs just happen. A worker’s mental attitude in acknowledging this fact may help them bounce back.

It may be helpful to think of strengths and positive traits that help you in the workplace and to make an intentional effort to highlight and celebrate those strengths, even if just to yourself. You might remember that this is a temporary setback, and you can find new opportunities for your career and your life. Layoffs happen to many people. You can allow yourself to feel your feelings and know that they are valid while remembering that a layoff does not mean that you are unworthy or will not find work again.

  1. Care for your physical well-being

The physical health effects of stress due to a layoff can take a toll on physical health, as detailed above. During times of stress, it may help to focus on self-care that supports your physical and mental well-being. For example, consider adopting better sleep hygiene practices, eating a balanced diet, drinking more water, and refraining from overconsumption of alcohol. You can also try using various stress management techniques, such as breathing exercises, physical activity, journaling, and meditation.

  1. Talk to someone

Experiencing a layoff can often feel isolating, but it is not something you have to handle entirely on your own. Seeking social support through mechanisms such as support groups and professional support through therapy can be helpful. Support groups can be a helpful way to connect with other people experiencing a job loss. Also, a therapist may be able to give you personalized strategies for using positive self-talk and processing feelings related to life changes or transitions. You can find a therapist who practices in your local area, or you can try remote therapy options, which may make it easier to find someone who has experience helping people navigate a job loss.

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How online therapy might help after a layoff

After a layoff, some people may think that therapy is not affordable, but there are therapy services that offer scholarships to those who qualify. If you don’t feel comfortable going to a therapist’s office at this time, you might consider online therapy. Research has shown that online therapy is effective in treating a variety of mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, and substance use.

With online therapy at BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping people who are navigating a layoff. You can connect with your therapist however you’re most comfortable—via live chat, phone, or videoconferencing. You can also contact your therapist at any time through in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. 

Takeaway

If you’re going through a layoff, you don’t have to face it alone. Although a layoff can present challenges to one’s physical and mental health, there are ways to navigate this process successfully and even emerge stronger. Aside from devising a strong self-care plan, you might consider speaking with a licensed online therapist who has experience helping people in similar situations. Take the first step toward getting help after a job loss and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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