Article written by Stephanie Harrison
This week, my former beloved employer LinkedIn went through layoffs, impacting many of my friends and former colleagues. And as of this week, the New York Times estimated that there are 30 million American workers who have suffered this same fate due to the pandemic. This guide is dedicated to all of you. You all deserve the greatest happiness and success.
While nothing can make this situation less painful for those impacted, I wanted to pull together a summary of some of the latest research and create some actionable suggestions to help you to take care of yourself, cope more effectively, and move forward in this moment. While this is unquestionably a major challenge, it is one that I am confident you can navigate and my hope is that this guide helps you to do so.
Take care of your well-being
Now more than ever, it’s critical that you take care of yourself. While you might see this as a luxury in this moment of crisis, it is in fact absolutely critical for you to move forward successfully.
Consider your goals right now — likely, you want to find a new job and figure out ways to support yourself and your family. One of the most helpful things you can do to achieve those goals is to ensure that you’re effectively managing your stress. When you face a stressor, your brain triggers a cascade of hormones and physiological responses that limit your ability to think clearly, manage your emotions, and respond effectively. These are strengths that you really need to reach those important goals!
To help counteract the impact of stress, trigger your body’s ‘relaxation response’. This is a physical state of calm and rest that has been shown to change the way that you respond to stress. Set aside 10-20 minutes a day to either focus on your breathing, engage in repetitive sports like running or activities that focus your mind like yoga, and flow activities like painting, drawing, or playing an instrument. One study found that practicing a relaxation response actually leads to genomic activity changes, specifically anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes, that counteract the impact of stress on the body. This daily 10-20 minutes will be essential for protecting the most important asset in your job hunt - you!
Allow yourself to grieve
Many people might want you to quickly get over any negative emotions and to move into a place of action, one where you have reframed the loss, and you’re absolutely ready to go. This might be a side effect of toxic positivity, our culture’s demand that we suppress our difficult experiences and emotions in favor of being positive. (Read more about toxic positivity and learn some helpful exercises to address it here.)
Losing a job is in the top five most stressful life events that a person can experience. It can lead to psychological challenges like a disruption of your identity, a loss of meaning, and an impact on your relationships. The grief you might be feeling is comparable to losing a loved one. It’s critical to acknowledge the depth of this loss and give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling. When you feel these painful or difficult emotions arise, your impulse might be to repress them. Paradoxically, that only amplifies them. Name your emotions by saying when you are sad, angry, or frustrated. This quiets the limbic areas of the brain that are responsible for feeling stressed, panicked, or afraid. When you label the emotion, you turn down the volume on the intensity of the emotion, allowing you to move from reacting to responding.
Over time, these emotions will change and evolve. You might feel hopeful and optimistic in the morning and devastated in the evening. All of this is normal. What matters most is that you allow them to arise and if possible, find support in working through them.
Practice developing optimism and hope
It’s also important to develop a mindset that supports you. Optimism and hope are two traits that we can actually cultivate in ourselves. An optimistic disposition is linked to three things that will help you to reach your goals: more effective problem solving, greater likelihood to engage in proactive behaviors, and better-coping strategies.
To become more optimistic, it’s important to mind the ‘Three P’s’: personal, persistent, and pervasive.
Optimistic people who are laid off tell themselves:
- Personal: It’s not because of me. It’s something that happened because of the pandemic.
- Persistent: It won’t be like this forever. I’m going to find something great.
- Pervasive: There’s still a lot of good things in my life that make it meaningful and fulfilling.
In contrast, pessimistic people who are laid off might tell themselves:
- Personal: I’m a failure. It’s all my fault.
- Persistent: It’s going to be like this forever and there’s nothing I can do.
- Pervasive: My life has been completely destroyed because of this.
Research has found that reacting with pessimism to job loss drains your psychological energy, which leaves you with little leftover to pursue effective coping strategies like looking for jobs, reaching out to network, and asking for help. Studies have also found that people who are more optimistic engage in more productive job search behavior.
It’s normal to have pessimistic thoughts. But when that happens, we can learn to actively reach for a new thought that is more supportive of our goals. Over time, this will lead to a more optimistic mindset.
To build hope, the most helpful practice is to identify the small things you can control and then take action towards them. This protects you from feeling helpless, which in turn gives you the energy to work towards your goals. The more control you feel that you have, the more motivated, centered, and resilient you will feel.
Another way to do this is to shift the way that you set goals. Avoid setting goals based on circumstances that are out of your control, like ‘I will have a new job by September 1st’. Instead, set behavioral goals that are completely within your control, such as ‘I will reach out to five contacts today’. Reward yourself with little celebrations every time you achieve one of your behavioral goals — over time, this will rewire your brain to make them automatic (rather than effortful) practices.
A few other tools that I’ve found personally useful in building resilience over the years:
- When you are feeling frustrated by the lack of progress, use the magic word: yet. I haven’t found a job… yet. I haven’t heard back from them… yet. I haven’t figured out my next play.. yet.
- When you feel discouraged, remind yourself that the bump is still on the road. All of our journeys have bumps and they are inevitable in any pursuit of a good, meaningful life. All that matters is that you stay on the road and keep moving forward (even when the bump stretches on, seemingly forever!) If you can ask yourself, “Am I still on the road?” and answer “Yes!”, then you should be very proud.
- Find a resilience anthem to play when you need a boost. I use Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” and highly recommend it.
Surround yourself with community
Social support is one of the most essential ingredients for coping with stressful times. One study looked at people who lost their job and found that those who didn’t have social support had higher cholesterol, illness symptoms, and affective responses. It’s so important to lean on your community during this time (and we’d love to invite you to join our New Happy community if you want more support, too!)
First, remind yourself: you don’t have to go this alone. I strongly encourage you to leverage instrumental support, which is physical or tangible forms of assistance. I was really moved to see the outpouring of instrumental support on LinkedIn over the past few days, such as connecting people with jobs, reviewing resumes, or interview coaching. Take advantage of it as much as you can. Post on LinkedIn to ask for what you need. Reach out to someone who you think could help. People truly want to help in this moment! You do not have to bear this weight alone. If you feel at all guilty about taking them up on it, remind yourself that letting them support you actually is good for their well-being.
Emotional support is critical, too. Try to connect with others who are in your position. Gathering together in community and supporting one another can be a great way to process your emotions, boost your morale, and swap helpful tips and tricks. This week, commit to reaching out to a few friends or colleagues who are in your position and see if they want to have a weekly Zoom check-in.
If you’re supporting a loved one, friend, or colleague through a layoff, make sure that you are actively reminding them of their value, worth, and their bright future. Studies have found that this is a critical way to support and buoy people who have experienced a layoff.
I’ve used these strategies in every hard thing I’ve ever tackled, and they have been especially essential in navigating the setbacks that hit me out of nowhere, the way a layoff does. I can really attest to the power they have to make navigating a hard situation a little bit easier. Reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any other suggestions and I’ll add them to this article. Let’s leverage our collective wisdom here to help out those who need it most!
This post originally appeared on The New Happy