How to Manage Job Loss Grief During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Prepped Team

May 8, 2020

6 minutes

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There’s no denying that we are facing a major shift in the job market due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Many companies, across all industries, are continuing to scale back their hiring efforts. As a result, a multitude of employees have experienced the stress and grief of losing their jobs due to layoffs, budget cuts, and more. Losing a job under normal circumstances is emotionally draining and scary, but experiencing job loss during a global pandemic can be very heavy. The five stages of grief share common themes with the emotional push and pull of losing a job. Prepped connected with Sari Goldman, a registered social worker who works within individual, couple, family and corporate wellness. Goldman helped us gain a better understanding of what grief is, how it contributes to job loss, and its impact during uncertain times.

The attachment theory as it relates to grief

“To understand grief, we first have to understand attachment. Attachment theory, which was developed by John Bowlby, is a way for us to understand people’s ability to make strong affectionate bonds with others. The emotional reaction that occurs when those bonds are threatened or broken is what we're looking at here.” explains Goldman. Attachments develop when we are babies in our parents' care and continue into adulthood. These learned bonds connect us to others and eventually play an important role in loss and grief. “The lessons in early attachment stay with us, forming our ability to cope and manage future experiences of loss, grief, adversity, and so on. Understanding loss is one of the most individual experiences we can go through as a human being. There are no two ways that look alike because so much of it depends on, again, that early attachment, what it looked like, how it was formed, how secure we were in that, and then all the subsequent experiences that we had.” says Goldman.

Understanding the role grief plays during job loss

In order to understand grief and the role it plays during times of loss, we must first identify what the stages of grief are and how they impact us. “What we do know about grief is what Dr. Kübler-Ross gave us in our first clinical insight into the universal process. She essentially provided us with this listing of five common stages of grief. It's known at this point that those five stages have grown to seven stages. Some theorists say there's more than that. But really, more or less, these are the stages we go through – denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and acceptance.” explains Goldman.Facing grief doesn’t necessarily mean you will experience the stages in any order; in fact, you may not experience all of the stages that make up the grieving process. Goldman expands on this, “What we absolutely know is that these stages are fluid. They are not fixed. It is not linear. They may or may not occur in the order presented. Some people may experience a variation of the same stage multiple times, and others may skip a stage or stages altogether.” It’s also possible that we will re-experience previous grief as we go through a new phase of loss. “It depends on the kind of loss that we're experiencing, and it depends on our coping mechanisms that are already established. What we do know is that when we experience losses, including job loss, divorce, breakups, or even successfully moving from one stage in life to another, like graduating high school and moving on to university or getting married, we inevitably re-experience previous losses. When we experience the present loss, whether we have coped effectively or productively with the previous losses will help to determine how we're going to cope with this one.” describes Goldman.

5 Tips for managing your job loss grief during coronavirus  

While job loss may feel like an isolated experience, there are several ways you can reach out and connect with your community to gain support and understanding. Here are a few ways to manage your job loss grief in a healthy way.

1. Feel all of your feelings

The stigma and shame can feel overwhelming, but acknowledging your feelings is the best method in facing them head-on. “A lot of people feel like they don't have the right to feel sad or depressed because their basic needs are being met. They have a warm bed, can afford rent and food, have friends and family, and other privileges. So they say to themselves, ‘other people have it so much worse. I don't have the right to feel this way.’ I want to dispel that completely. We all have the right to feel what we need to feel. Emotions require motion. We want to carve out room in ourselves, open up to let the feelings come and give ourselves permission to experience that sadness, fear, loneliness, anger, and so on.” Goldman explains.

2. Ask for support from your loved ones

Whether you are in isolation alone or with a partner, family or roommate, it’s essential to reach out if you are experiencing moments of distress. If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, Goldman recommends identifying someone you trust. “This is the best time for us to say to our friends, our families, our partners – ‘I'm having a tough time. I'm having a tough day. I'm having a hard time balancing my schedule. I'm having a hard time staying optimistic and motivated, or I’m really down and don’t have energy — I feel so angry at myself’. Just talking to whoever you identify within your support network as someone that you trust and feel that you can be vulnerable with is really important.” she says. “If you can’t find someone to open up with, try reaching out to a therapist who can help you understand and process the root of the emotions and provide strategies to work through them. There is a lot of professional support out there, and it can feel very validating and reassuring having someone to talk to about what you are going through.”

3. Create positive routines in your daily life

A healthy routine can help set you back on track and improve your mood. Goldman says, “It’s important to create a good bedtime routine. When we don't get good sleep, our entire rhythm is off, and it becomes much more difficult to regulate and to ground yourself, and our stress levels continue to stay heightened and elevated. One of the strategies around managing that on-going stress is to ensure that you are making room for basic self-care routines, like healthy eating, drinking lots of water, exercise, fresh air, and sleep.”Your routine could include a variety of things. One of Goldman’s suggestions includes maintaining a journal.  “ …  the value of journaling is that we're writing down our thoughts, so we're acknowledging them. We're naming them and identifying them, which in itself is a step towards healing from them. But when we write it down, we're then letting the paper carry the weight of those worries. And we can sort of say to ourselves, 'OK, these worries are still going to be here tomorrow. I'm not going to forget them because now they're written down, so I don't have to snowball and try and hold on to that worry. It's written down. It's acknowledged. It's named. I'm going to look at it tomorrow during my time that I've carved out for emotion or while I go on my walk.’"

4. Only jump back in when you’re ready

It may feel like the best solution is to dive into the job market and secure a new position, but you should only tackle that when you’re ready. “If you feel like you have the energy to start looking at jobs, go for it. If it starts to feel like it's just too much, take a step back. I really promote routines and schedules. That allows us to compartmentalize, and that's one of the most effective ways to manage grief responses because we still want to be able to function. So when we can create a routine or schedule, which includes time carved out for self-care, time for experiencing grief, time to focus on job searching, and time to unwind, we're creating the ability to anticipate what’s coming next. This, in itself, is a safety net.” Goldman explains.

5. Let go of what you can’t control

In our conversation with Goldman, she emphasized that it’s important to acknowledge what is within our control and what is out of our control. For the times you are struggling to create that boundary, Goldman suggests the following exercise: “It sounds so simple, but take deep breaths – five seconds in, hold, and then seven seconds out. Complete that cycle five times. Name five things in the room. There's a desk. There's a chair. There's a picture of my family. There's a computer, a coffee mug. It's that simple.”So, how does this breathwork play into your sense of what you can control and what you can’t? “We want to focus on the tangible. And when we do that, we are training our brain to move away from the overwhelming, stressful thoughts onto something that we can grasp. And when we're breathing, we're slowing down our heart rate. We're allowing our blood not to rush to our brain, sending off that cortisol chemical. And we're regulating our body so that we can think a little bit more clearly and effectively and say, OK, at this moment, I am OK. I have food. I am not sick. This blanket is soft. I feel the breath coming into my nose. And I'm going to get through this.’ And truly, this can work to dampen some of the pain.”Once regulated, we want to notice what we can control. I can choose to respond to this situation in this particular way; I can use this time to complete tasks that are important to me now (to-do lists are great, especially small tasks that are achievable so we can feel successful). I can choose to ride this time out in a calm way; I can choose to find healthy coping strategies; I can choose to accept this situation and look for silver linings each day.

Prepped is here to help you navigate the job search when you’re ready

Facing a layoff is never easy, but with the right tools and resources, you will be able to turn your career journey around within a few steps. Prepped is here to guide and support you with free access to tools and educational resources. The Define Your Career module will help you battle the stages of unemployment as we set you up for success in a potential new role. Sign up for Prepped today to gain access to all of our tools and resources as you- prepare for the job search at home.