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What to Do if You’ve Been Laid Off

Why it’s important to process your feelings, plus what to do next.

By Taylor Trudon

Regardless of whether it’s due to a global pandemic or a company merger, being laid off from your job can feel like a crushing, humiliating, and even traumatic experience. In fact, research shows that the longer unemployment lasts, the more likely a person will report signs of poor psychological well-being. So why––with millions of Americans out of work because of Covid-19—why aren’t we talking about it more? 

Women were more likely to have been laid off in April, and women of color were some of the most impacted communities. Latinas faced a 20.2% unemployment rate in May and Black women were twice as likely to endure layoffs, furloughs, or have their hours cut compared to white men. 

When a layoff happens, we can be swept up in the logistics of dealing with changes in our finances, and of course, finding a new job—leaving minimal time to process emotions, or as therapists would say, trauma.  

“Typically, trauma is thought of as something that is life-threatening or perceived to be life-threatening. Being laid off might not seem that severe on the surface, even though the consequences can be dire financially and psychologically,” says therapist Erin Brandel Dykhuizen, LICSW. “It can have a big effect.” 

In April, Camille,* a 24-year-old from Chicago, was one of the eight percent of her colleagues laid off from her company. She says her layoff from the tech start-up initially sent her into a “depression spiral.” 

“I was so worried about losing my apartment and the new life I’ve started here in Chicago,” she says. “I frantically applied to a ton of jobs, and then when I had very few responses, I started to sleep a lot to force the time to pass.” 

Psychologist Dr. Karla Ivankovich agrees, saying that when it comes to being laid off, those impacted often don’t consider it within the context of loss. Instead, they see it as “just another event” that happened.

However, “loss is loss,” she says. “When experiencing the loss of a relationship or the loss of a job or even a partner, it signifies change ahead. When it happens with minimal to no warning, it can cause fear, anxiety, and even depression. The fear stems from the unknown.” 

Melissa, a 27-year-old from Queens, New York, was laid off from her sales role at a global publisher in June. “I’ve experienced lots of ups and downs,” she says, describing her feelings as fluctuating between being grateful for a support system and savings yet also feeling like her career is in “shambles.”

Her stress was further amplified because her parents, who both work in restaurants, also lost their jobs. Melissa’s mother had applied for unemployment toward the end of March, but she didn’t receive her first payment until mid-May. 

Money has also been a consistent concern for Camille during her unemployment. She says she would have had to move across the country had she not received her government stipend. 

The $600 per week unemployment stipend is what has saved my mental health,” she says. “I’m able to live a life similar to the life I had before, and apply to jobs I think I would enjoy. I’m worried at the moment about what will happen when that $600 runs out.”

When it comes to her job search, Camille says the road to securing employment has been challenging. 

“At first, I was met with a lot of silence and rejections,” she says. “Then I started to get interview requests. Several times, I made it to the final round of interviews but didn’t secure the position. It’s a hard shift from what I experienced earlier in my career, when I had tons of interviews and many offers to choose from for my next career step.” 

For Melissa, looking ahead at future potential employers means taking a step back to evaluate the workplace’s values. With her unemployment coinciding with national protests, she says today’s political climate has made her even more conscientious of her privilege—and she wants employers to be aware of theirs, too.     

“I don’t want to go work just for any company,” says Melissa, who is Latinx. “I want to see that they care about people, that they care about diversity, and that they care about the Black Lives Matter movement.”

While being laid off can feel terrible, you are not alone. Below, Brandel Dykhuizen and Dr. Ivankovich offer strategies for getting through this rough patch.  

Take Care of Yourself

This means taking care of both your physical and mental health. Brandel Dykhuizen recommends creating a routine. 

“Although you’re not going into the office, getting up and going to bed at the same time every day will help keep you on a good sleep schedule, and good sleep is important to mental health,” she says. “Eating well and exercising can also help. Staying involved socially, even if you don’t feel like it, is also good for you. So is engaging in activities that are interesting and meaningful to you—or if you’ve lost interest in things that usually interest you, do them anyway.” 

Talking with a mental health professional to process your feelings and help you move forward is also key. 

“People think counselors are only for times of crisis,” says Dr. Ivankovich. “But to the contrary, they are also for times when nothing is wrong, so we learn how to accept our situations and grow from them.”

Reframe the Narrative

Remember: Your job does not define who you are as a person. In fact, the reason you lost your job might have nothing to do with you at all.

“Think of all of the reasons your friends and family like you and care about you. Your job is likely not on this list,” says Brandel Dykhuizen. “You are more than your job, even if it was very important to you. It may also help to contextualize the layoff and consider the success that you have had in your career. It’s likely that you have spent much more time being employed than you have laid off. It can also be helpful to look at the reason for the layoff. It’s likely due to the business needs of your employer rather than being about you. Even if it was due to a performance issue, your worth as a person does not depend on your ability to perform in one particular role at a given time.”

Use This Moment to Reflect

“You need to remind yourself of the importance of you,” says Dr. Ivankovich. “Take the time to deal with and accept the loss as a loss. Evaluate what you coulda, shoulda, woulda done differently, and consider that in plans for the future. But be clear with yourself: There will be a future.”

Take Action

It’s easy to feel helpless when you’re out of work and a national pandemic continues to spread across the country. But in addition to taking care of your body and mind, another way to feel empowered is to use your voice to contribute to change. Maybe that means (safely) attending a protest, signing petitions, or phone banking for the candidates you care about. It can be as simple as reminding your loved ones to request an absentee ballot before their deadlines or using this time to further your own education, both on subjects that are important to you, and in areas that could add value to your career. Channelling your energy into actionable steps will not just serve as a temporary distraction but will also create real impact. 

*Name has been changed per source’s request

*Interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Taylor Trudon

Written By

Taylor Trudon

Taylor Trudon is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York.

See more of Taylor's articles

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