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How to bounce back after losing a job

Losing a job can be devastating. But you can find the resilience you need to recover—perhaps better than ever.

How to bounce back after losing a job
[Photo: Deborah Ritch/iStock]
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As jobless claims remain at historic highs, Americans are worried about unemployment. The August Ipsos “What Worries the World” poll found that unemployment was one of the top three worries among people in the U.S., with COVID-19 taking the top spot.

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“[Losing your job] is extremely traumatizing,” says resilience expert Dwayne Buckingham, president and CEO of R.E.A.L. Horizons Consulting Service. “There are so many different layers to losing your job—your family stability, quality of life, and other things.”

Fortunately, if you do find yourself facing unemployment, mental health and career experts have some advice for finding the resilience you need to bounce back. It may not be easy, but keep these steps in mind:

Don’t rush yourself

Losing your job and livelihood is a serious matter, and it can be scary. But good decisions are rarely made during times of panic and duress, says organizational psychologist Cathleen Swody, founder of the consulting firm Thrive Leadership. “It’s a matter of recognizing ‘this is big, and it’s beyond my control.’ Take a couple of days—or a week, whatever you need—to process the process,” she says.

When you take some time to “get out of your own head,” you can often begin to see your way forward. Jumping on LinkedIn immediately and reaching out to your entire network without taking the time you need to put your best foot forward is usually not a good idea, she says.

Gather your recovery team

You may need some support right now. Surround yourself with the people who are going to make you feel better, Swody says. There may be some people who are good sounding boards or who can offer advice. Once you start feeling ready to venture out, call on trusted friends and colleagues who can help you practice for interviews or give you feedback on your elevator pitch.

Be careful of cognitive distortions

When we go through traumatic events, we may suffer from cognitive distortions that make it hard to think clearly and objectively, Buckingham says. Whether it’s catastrophizing because of the high unemployment numbers or taking things personally when your layoff was the result of the economy, slipping into untrue negative thoughts isn’t going to help you. When you find yourself thinking the worst, stop and find a way to redirect your energy. You might talk to a friend, write in a journal, or reach out to a professional for help.

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Anchor yourself

Chances are that you’ve been through challenging times before and gotten through them. Now is the time to remind yourself of that, says career coach Dawn D. Owens, founder of the Corporate Couch coaching and consulting firm. “You are not what you do. This is the time to [let that] go,” she says. Read over thank-you notes or emails, work that made you proud, or other reminders of your skill. Regaining your perspective about your talents and worth will help you regain the confidence you need to feel better and find the next opportunity, she says.

Look for the opportunity

Several years ago, marketing consultant Kelly Stanze relocated to Kansas City for a job. Roughly 14 months later, she was laid off. Far from California, where she had lived previously, she was devastated, to the point of randomly breaking down into tears throughout the day, she says. She was in a new relationship and had made a few friends during her time in her new hometown, so she decided to stay. Her little network helped her find a new job, even though she had to move into a new specialty. She ended up thriving in the new role. “If I’d never lost that job, I never would have found my real passion,” she says.

That’s the kind of “happily ever after” story that can feel like nails on a chalkboard when you’re in the throes of anxiety. However, it is important to consider that your challenge may also be a chance to try something new, Owens says. Try to stay open to that possibility and spend some time thinking about what you really want to do next. Instead of just searching for another mediocre role, consider whether this is an opportunity to make career changes you’ve thought about but haven’t acted on.

Focus on what you can control

If you look at the big picture of what you’re facing, it can feel overwhelming and impossible. Instead, try to focus only on what you can control right now. You can’t control the unemployment numbers, but you can spruce up your LinkedIn profile and get your résumé updated. You can’t control how long it will take to find a new job, but you can create a budget and review how to conserve cash for the time being. You can also adopt healthy habits such as eating right, getting exercise, and sleeping enough to help you feel better. “Build up the physical side of resiliency to support the psychological,” she says.

Give back

As you begin to look for a new job, you may find yourself in a position to help others, Owens says. If you can, do it. Whether it’s volunteering, helping someone with a résumé, or giving something to someone in need, giving makes us feel good. It can help you feel gratitude and a sense of control during a chaotic time, she says.

And Buckingham has one last word of advice: Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s natural for successful, competitive people to do so. But that’s not going to do you any good right now. Instead, focus on what you can do now and also on building your personal resiliency framework to help you get through the next time challenges emerge, he says.

About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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