Coping with Job Loss in the Time of COVID-19

Losing your job is one of the most stressful life experiences…and you can get through it.

Losing your job can mean losing your financial security. For many people it means losing a part of their identity. Losing your job can feel like a failure, even when it is not your fault. It is normal to feel helpless and hopeless for a little while.

Even if you hated your job, wanted to make a job change, or knew that layoffs were coming, losing a job is still one of the most stressful life events.

If you have recently lost your job because of the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19), you are not alone.

Millions of people in the United States have lost their jobs since the beginning of March as a direct result of COVID-19. Unprecedented numbers of people are applying for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in their states. In Minnesota, over 450,000 people have already applied for UI benefits.

Assess Your Survival Needs

As the initial shock of the job loss wears off, the first step is to figure out your basic survival needs. Take a look at your financial situation. Figure out how much money you have and how long you and your family can survive on those funds. If you do not have the financial resources to survive for a few months, begin the process of seeking assistance in the state in which you live. Consider your needs for unemployment insurance benefits, food, housing, health insurance, small business loans, or safe shelter from an abuser.

For those in the state of Minnesota, you can find links for many local resources on the state’s unemployment insurance page.


Seven Tips for Coping with Job Loss (during the COVID-19 pandemic)

Coping with job loss at any time is stressful, even if you have some savings that will sustain you for awhile. Coping with job loss during a global pandemic brings a new level to what it means to live in a time of uncertainty. While each person’s situation is unique, here are a few tips for coping with the emotional roller coaster of job loss during this difficult time.


Allow Yourself to Feel a Range of Emotional Reactions

It is normal to experience a wide range of emotions after you lose your job. One minute you might feel shocked, and the next you might feel angry. It is normal to feel sad, depressed, overwhelmed, fearful, and anxious.

Many people have been taught that if you feel sad or angry then you are focusing on the “negative.” Other people may try to make you feel better by saying things like “You have to stay positive” and “Focus on the future, not the past.” It is important to allow yourself to experience these normal reactions to losing your job. Feeling angry, sad, and anxious about losing your job does NOT mean that you are not “staying positive” or are “stuck in the past” or are going crazy.

Feelings last for a short time and when you are in the midst of feeling fearful or depressed, remind yourself that while you may feel bad at this moment in time, this feeling will not last forever. I encourage people to allow themselves time to grieve the loss of the job before jumping right into a job search.

(If the feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression continue for many weeks, it can be helpful to speak with a mental health professional. Most therapists are providing services online or by phone right now. Find a therapist through your insurance company, Psychology Today, or a Google search.)


Remind Yourself that Life is Not Normal Right Now

We are living in unprecedented times and there is so much uncertainty in our lives at the moment. Even in “normal” times, living with uncertainty can trigger anxiety, stress, and depression in most people. We want answers and want to feel in control of our lives. Experiences like a pandemic can remind us how little control we have at times.

If you are experiencing high levels of anxiety, having trouble sleeping, and difficulty concentrating, these are normal reactions to living in uncertain times. Acknowledging the uncertainty can help you feel less crazy or alone in how you are feeling. Talk with others about the way they are feeling and you will find that most people, even those of us who are mental health professionals, are feeling anxious. For some tips on coping with stress during this pandemic, check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.

Given that we do not know what the job market is going to look like next month, or in six months, take the pressure off yourself to find a quick solution or get back to work right away.


Reach Out to Other People

Humans are social creatures and even the most introverted of us need interaction with others. Isolation and lack of connection can increase the likelihood of experiencing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Given the shelter-in-place orders in most states, isolation and lack of connection from others is the norm for everyone. This means that it is really important to connect with other people to maintain your emotional health. Communicate in the ways that fit best for you and keep you safe: phone calls, texts, emails, and online platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime.

Share your job loss story with others in your life. Keeping it a secret can make it feel like it is something shameful. Sometimes we are afraid that we will burden others with our problems, but the reality is that other people want to hear what is going on and to offer their support. Reach out to friends, family, or online communities. Find other job loss support groups online or create your own support group by staying in touch with previous co-workers who are in your same position.


Engage in Activities that Calm You Down

With so much out of your control at the moment, identify the things you can do that make you feel better and calmer. What works for one person is different for another, so figure out what activities make you feel more anxious and which help you feel calm and centered. Those of you sequestered in a house full of people may need to find time to talk a walk by yourself and find a quiet corner to read or journal. Those of you living alone or with little social interaction may need to reach out to others and have a Zoom call with a friend.

Research studies consistently show the benefits of being physically active. Being in nature also has calming effects on your brain. When possible, get outside and take a walk, run, or bike ride. If you cannot get outside, try stretching, yoga, or just dancing to music to move your body.

Activities that help you “get out of your head” and temporarily turn the volume down on your anxious or depressed thoughts can be beneficial in moderation. Some people find venting their thoughts and feelings through journaling or talking to friends to be helpful. Passive activities such as watching TV, playing video games, or scrolling social media feeds can also be beneficial in moderation.


Evaluate Your Career Goals

You may have noticed that the first four Coping with Job Loss Tips were all about maintaining your emotional health. It is almost impossible for most people to jump start the job search process if they have not taken the time to grieve the loss of the previous job (especially if you are taking care of children or others while managing the job loss right now). It is also important to understand and accept the uncertainties of the current job market. This will help you manage your expectations for the job search process.

Given the uncertainty in the job market, this is a good time to pause and reflect on your career path and evaluate your goals for your working life.

  • How satisfied were you with your previous job?
  • Would you have stayed in this job or were you considering looking for another position?
  • How satisfied are you in your career or organization or industry? Before the job loss, were you considering a change in job or career?
  • What do you want your working life to look like in two years? In five years?

Use this time to develop or solidify career goals for yourself. Identify the aspects about your job that you enjoy and want to do more of, as well as those aspects that you do not enjoy and want to move away from. Having clarity about where you want to take your career helps you identify jobs or organizations that fit well with your skill set and network more successfully.

For those considering making a career change, there is nothing to lose in exploring your career options right now. Many online resources are available that provide free career assessments and extensive information about career paths, such as Career OneStop, Minnesota Career Force, and O*Net.

And, to put in a shameless plug, this could be a good time to explore your career path with a career counselor. Most of us are providing services online right now.


Update Your Career Portfolio

Whether you plan to find a similar job or are considering a career change, this is a great time to update your career portfolio.

  • Resume: Pull out your most recent resume and see what needs to be updated. (If you cannot find your resume, that is a good sign you need to create one.) You can find great articles on developing your resume on Indeed, HuffPost, and Minnesota’s Career Force and Minnesota State CAREERwise, or through a LinkedIn Learning course.
  • Online Profile: Take advantage of this time to update your professional presence online. For those who have been reticent to create an online presence, begin with a developing or updating your LinkedIn profile. Depending on your occupation, consider other ways that you could use social media to enhance your career profile.
  • Industry Knowledge: Stay up to date in your field by catching up on professional articles, books, or other materials. Given vast changes in technology, your industry knowledge can quickly become out of date. Find webinars or other online trainings to develop new skills or get additional certifications. LinkedIn Learning offers many courses online or find an online opportunities through your professional organization or community education program.

Develop Your Job Search Plan

As I write this in mid-April 2020, we are seeing both massive layoffs and a dire need for workers in some industries.

On the one hand, millions of people have lost their jobs and more layoffs are coming. Some industries are completely shut down, and companies are making plans to furlough workers or will need to layoff workers in the future. Depending on your profession, this may not be a great time to get a new job in your industry and it may make sense to wait a bit before jumping into job searching.

A number of industries, however, need workers right now. Large retailers like Amazon, and Target are hiring, as well as grocery stores and distribution centers. Check out posts on Indeed, LinkedIn, and Minnesota Economic and Employment Development for more information on companies that are hiring right now.

Prepare for a Future Job Search. Use this time to develop your strategies for job searching. In addition to updating your resume and online presence, consider the steps you will take when you are ready to job search again.

  • Use your network. Identify the types of organizations or companies for which you would like to work, and ask your friends and family if they know people who work for those organizations and use LinkedIn or other social media to identify contacts in those organizations. Arrange informal conversations with people who work in those organizations and ask them questions about their experience with the company.
  • Explore job ads. While networking is important in the job searching process, some people may not have a strong network to rely on. Exploring job ads online can help you identify the types of positions being advertised. Create a list of online resources to check every few days for job ads. Find a mix of large job boards such as Indeed.com and USAjobs.gov, company and organization websites, and those in your specific area of interest or profession.
  • Play the long game. Job searching can take a long time. While some people may find a job right away, others may be searching for months. Be mentally prepared to engage in job searching activities for a long period of time. Decide how much time you will spend on your job searching process each day and stick to a regular schedule. Try not to burn yourself out by spending a lot of time on one day and then not doing anything the next day.

Losing your job can be a stressful experience, it can feel doubly stressful during this time of uncertainty. Most people are feeling stress right now as we all cope with the effects of COVID-19. Be kind and patient with yourself and others and take it one day at a time. You will get through this.