Depression as a result of losing your job

When the reality of not having a job finally sinks in, it is usual to feel down and blue for a while. Don’t be surprised – it’s completely normal (although if it lasts six months or more, you should definitely seek some professional help.). The situational depression that comes with redundancy can encompass a range of emotions and reactions. These include:

Feelings of loss after losing your job

Losing your job counts as a major loss. It signals loss of earnings, of companionship, of daily structure and many other things. Strong feelings, including disappointment, shock and grief are part of our natural response.

We experience loss throughout life, whether it’s bereavement, divorce, realising we’re not as young as we used to be or the children growing up and leaving home. We also learn early on that loss is survivable. Through our early losses – pets, a grandparent, familiar friends and spaces as we move schools or houses – we develop tools to cope.

The loss of a job is no different, and you will develop tools to cope. After all, loss is one of the major things that shapes and grows us.

Loss of self-worth after losing your job

Why does losing a job hurt so much? It’s because work is one of the ways we receive feedback about our worth, and human beings crave feedback and validation. It doesn’t even need to be praise; just the acknowledgement that you are a worthwhile and needed part of the team. Work is one of the major ways we define ourselves, and when we are told we are no longer needed, it hits us straight in the self-worth.

The key thing to remember is that, though your job has gone, it’s not a rejection of you personally. Those colleagues who liked and valued you, probably still like and value you – you are probably still very good at the job you did. This is a numbers game controlled by bean-counters, it’s not a comment on your ability or your personality. In fact, research shows that managers under pressure to make this decision will almost always keep the person who carefully avoids making mistakes and let go the person who takes risks, so it’s often the creative, inspirational, outside-the-box thinkers who find themselves out of a job.

Luckily, it’s those same creative, inspirational, outside-the-box thinkers who have the ability to find themselves a better job, often with more freedom and a better salary, as a result.

Feeling betrayed by your boss

When you lose your job, it’s very difficult not to blame the person who’s sacked you, especially if he’s still got his job, house and nice car. Being put out of work feels like punishment, as though you must have done something wrong to deserve it. Although redundancy law states that the criteria for choosing who will go must be fair – you may still feel that, ultimately, it came down to whether you got on with your manager, which can leave a very bitter taste.

Some things to bear in mind. Even if that manager doesn’t like you, he or she may have spent time and effort building up trust with their team. Now they are having to betray that trust. Even if they didn’t particularly like you, they won’t enjoy managing the atmosphere of fear among those who are left. The manager who sacked you may know they are also at risk, if not now then further down the track.

If the person doing the sacking owns the business, they will know it’s probably better for one person to leave than for the whole company to go under with five times the casualties. Small business owners tend to be closer to their people: know their spouses, have been in their homes, have shared their hopes and dreams, so letting you go may have been far from easy. Having to lay people off affects the boss’s self-worth, too.

Adapting to the new working world

In the corporate world, time was, if you got a good job, and you worked hard and were loyal, you had a job for life. It was like an unspoken bargain – you may have grumbled, but you did whatever your employer asked, and in return you never had to think about where the next pay packet was coming from or how you’d get by if your health failed.

But the world changed irrevocably with the last recession. Business woke up to the fact that the fastest way to manipulate costs was to write flexibility into the payroll. Human resources suddenly found itself with a seat on the board and a calculator.

New HR practices have largely killed off the ‘emotional contract’ between employer and employee, as policies and contracts of employment are stretched to the limit in the employer’s favour. Today, no job is for life, and you can expect to have several jobs during your working life (possibly simultaneously). You may be made redundant several times. This may take some getting used to if you are a loyal type of person, but, in this new environment, the only person you owe loyalty to is yourself.

That doesn’t mean you need to turn into a nasty person, and it’s by no means all bad. The shift in relationship goes both ways. Looking out for number one means it’s easier to engineer a work/life balance without feeling guilty. You are free to explore any opportunity that comes your way at any time. Changing jobs regularly, provided it is not every few weeks, is seen as a good thing by employers who at one time might have been concerned about your lack of consistency.

Dealing with panic about not having a job

It’s easy to feel panicky about not having a job if you have not been out of a job before. Physical feelings – fast heartbeat, feeling out of breath, feeling as though the world is spinning and you can’t think clearly – are classic signs of panic. So is the feeling that you should be dashing around doing lots of things all at once.

If this is how you are feeling, just stop. Sit down with a pen and paper and make a list of everything you think you should be doing. Then put the list down and make a cup of tea. When you go back to your list, put things in order of priority, grouping things that can be done together. Nothing will change because you are going at a slower pace – you may well get a lot more done.

If you are experiencing real physical panic attacks that last for several minutes at a time, this article on coping with panic attacks provides some useful tips and links. If you are having regular panic attacks, or are at all worried, see your GP, as medical treatment is available.

Fear of financial consequences of unemployment

A remarkable number of things shoot through your mind when you learn you are about to lose your job, and many people report the almost instant thought: ‘but, how will I pay the mortgage?!’ It’s understandable: having a job means being able to meet commitments; no job means possibly not being able to meet them. It is a big deal.

The best way to deal with this worry is to establish some certainty as fast as possible. Look at our pages on financial planning for advice.

Fear of losing your identity while unemployed

Anyone who has a career, as distinct from a job they hold down simply to pay the bills, will begin to identify themselves through their work identity. When this is taken away you may feel as though you no longer have an identity.

Those who move through unemployment relatively easily tend to be those who have managed to keep a balance between work and other aspects of their life such as family, key relationship, friends, hobbies, health and fitness, learning, home, holidays and so on. When they lose their job, it is only part of the picture that is missing: the bottom hasn’t fallen out of their world, and they have a lot to fall back on. If you were intensely career-focused, you may have regarded these colleagues as less than fully committed, but it is this kind of balance that protects us from depression when things get tough.

Redundancy can provide a real opportunity to readdress your work/life balance, and this, in turn, can help you to build a stronger base for your life. It can also be a time to review your identity – to move from what is to what could ideally be.

Being realistic about getting another similar job

You may be reluctantly coming to the conclusion that there is no realistic prospect of getting another job similar to the one you have lost. It may be that the sector in which you work is shrinking, or the type of work you did is no longer in demand. If this is the case, it may feel as though you will never get another job.

Although it may feel as though this is very bad news, it can actually be a real turning point. Most people, through their jobs, hobbies and life experience build up useful transferable skills and also come to conclusions about things they are good at, things they enjoy and things they may have an aptitude for. All of this is useful when it comes to thinking of alternative areas in which you can make a living, with or without retraining.

Dealing with rejection in your job search

Job hunting in today’s climate can be a very demoralising experience, especially when few organisations even send rejection letters anymore (by the way, the reason organisations often don’t send rejection letters is because they then don’t have to state why your application is not being taken forward – thus protecting them from possible discrimination lawsuits). There are three main reasons for consistent rejection, and it helps to accept rejection more easily if you know those reasons.

The main, and most legitimate, reason for rejection may be that you were bested by another candidate – in other words, this job is not for you. This can be for a variety of reasons, but it always pays to find out why you were passed over, either at the application or at the interview stage.

Unfortunately, giving feedback to candidates is one of the things employers seem to find most difficult, so be prepared to ask every time and get useful feedback only occasionally. When you do, encourage the employer to be really honest, and then treat what they say as gold-dust, because it’s only by getting feedback that you will know what (if anything) you could improve upon. It may be something you can’t do anything about in the short term (like inappropriate skills or experience) but it may be something that you can do something about – for instance, a poor CV, an off-putting manner, or dressing inappropriately. If you don’t ask – and if you’re not open to constructive criticism – then you will never know.

Another common reason for rejection is that the post you applied for may already have been earmarked for somebody else. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 48 percent of job seekers in America get their jobs through some form of referral, meaning that, even if an advertisement, application and interview process was followed, they had an inside connection of some kind that helped them to get the job. Often, this will have come about through networking, so, to increase your own chances, increase your network. Professional organisations, former colleagues, friends and online communities should all be targets for networking. Pre-earmarked jobs can still be overturned if your application and interview put you head-and-shoulders above the earmarked candidate, so definitely don’t give up applying.

The third common reason for rejection, especially when you know you could do the job standing on your head, is that you are over-qualified. Employers feel that applicants who are over-qualified won’t stay. To overcome this, you need to make it abundantly clear that this is the job you really want, and that you will commit to a minimum term if you need to, to secure the post. Of course, minimum terms are rarely binding, and it is entirely up to you whether you feel comfortable making such a commitment. But this kind of reassurance often helps.

If your job search is as good as you can possibly make it, and your feedback is good, then it’s simply down to a numbers game. Hang on in there – it’ll be your turn soon!

Feeling lonely while unemployed

Another challenge associated with unemployment is being alone. Human beings are naturally gregarious, and it is natural to seek out and value attachments with others as a way of valuing ourselves. The more strong attachments we make, the more certain we feel in the world, and this includes attachment to job and work colleagues.

Losing our job means losing connections, and this can lead to a wobbly feeling of not being properly connected to the world anymore. We may feel awkward about calling workmates and they may be too.

Ways to overcome this include keeping connections healthy using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and services such as Twitter. If you think these are just for kids, go and look – you will be amazed at how many work colleagues you find. It is de rigueur to accumulate as many friends as you can, so don’t hesitate to contact workmates and former colleagues (as well as friends from previous employments, school, college, university, clubs and societies, and anywhere else you can think of). Not only will you be able to keep up with social goings-on, but all of these people form part of your network for job searching.

Message boards associated with hobbies and interests can also form a lifeline and break up the day. If you have a gym membership or season ticket that can’t be cancelled, use that, too. Get chatting – you never know where those connections will lead.

It may be excruciatingly difficult to carry on going to a favourite pub or bar with your old workmates when you are no longer a workmate, but you may find it’s easier than you think, especially once you’ve got yourself (and them) over the initial awkwardness. Or, go along when there are specific events like pub quizzes or family events.

It may be easier to keep in touch via sports and teams where there is a different sense of community and loyalty from work. If you can’t afford tickets, invite mates around to watch the game on Sky (Sky itself can be a lifeline if you haven’t got much money to go out).

Now is the time to re-establish longer established friendships that you may have let lapse, build stronger bonds with family, and make visits that you’ve been putting off. It’s also the time to start making new connections through local professional associations and Chambers of Commerce.

Take up every invitation, and don’t assume you are persona non grata until you’ve tried. Friendship, like most other things in life, is what you make it. If you reach out, no matter how tough it is at first, you will soon make new connections to replace those you’ve lost.

Guarding against losing your confidence while unemployed

It takes guts to maintain your personal confidence in the face of several months without a job. The trick is to keep faith with yourself, despite all the knocks and set-backs that the job hunting process can throw at you.

Losing your confidence is very common after weeks or months of unsuccessful job searching. Confidence doesn’t disappear overnight, although it may have taken an initial knock when you were told you were being let go. Most people find that it slowly leaches away over time, eroded by things like constant rejection (which as though you are being punished), feeling as though you are failing to meet other people’s standards, absence of good things, such as the praise, warmth and interest that might come from companionship and management at work, being the odd one out among your friends, the stress of having to manage with less money. All of these, as well as feeling generally blue, can all contribute to shrinking self-esteem.

Low self-esteem is driven by negative beliefs you develop and hold about yourself. Although they are only opinions – and mistaken ones at that – they can feel as real as fact, and it’s easy to spot evidence to corroborate them if you are having a hard time in your job search. But they are inaccurate, biased, driven by the circumstances you find yourself in rather than your real personality or abilities. They are the result of a loss of your usual balanced perspective. They are also a habit, and habits can be broken.

To break the cycle, it’s important to spot and then de-bunk your negative self-perceptions. Try writing down some of the things you’re saying to yourself. For instance, are you criticising yourself? Are you calling yourself names? Do you berate yourself? Tell yourself off for things you do or don’t do? You may be quite shocked at how tough you are on yourself – far tougher than you’d ever be on anyone else.

Once you have that list of self-talk messages, challenge yourself to come up with more positive versions. Watch for things you would usually have seen as evidence of your failures, and generate different, more positive explanations for what you see. It takes time to break a habit, so be patient. Although you’ll notice the difference almost immediately in the way you feel, you’ll need to consciously keep doing this for several weeks before the new habit sticks.