More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in March 2020 according to a Statistics Canada report released today, moving our unemployment rate from 2.2% to 7.8%. The volume and speed at which people have been let go from their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike what we have seen in recent history. In fact, the increase in the unemployment rate in March 2020 was the largest ever on record (and the records date back as far as 1976), surpassing the job-loss rate recorded during the Great Recession of 2008.
Losing a job has negative impacts not just on your financial health, but also your physical and mental health. Several studies have demonstrated a clear connection between being laid off and increased rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma and suicide. What is more is that research has found that while losing your job can negatively impact your mental health, poorer levels of mental health can lead to a lower likelihood of getting another job. All the more reason for you to work towards taking care of your mental well-being.
What are the Impacts of Losing a Job?
Losing a job means the loss of more than your financial sustenance. Some common experiences people report after being let go include:
- A loss in meaning and purpose
- Low motivation and zest for life
- Loss of what gave structure and routine to your daily life
- Sense of helplessness, feeling like one is not useful
- Loss in the ability to apply personal skills to a project that leads to positive outcomes and gives you a sense of agency and personal autonomy
- Even though you know that you were let go due to the pandemic, you may feel like your job was not as worthwhile as others; this can impact your trust towards your employer
- Loss of a socially valued role and social contacts
- Feelings of grief, anger, and sadness
Coping Emotionally and Socially with Unemployment
Losing a job is like losing a loved one and for this reason you may find yourself going through a process of grieving. Here are some suggestions on how to cope with the emotional and social impact of losing your job
Identify and validate your feelings What did losing this job mean for you? you may be feeling afraid, worried, stressed, angry, frustrated…whatever you’re feeling remember that it is valid to feel that way and you are not alone.
Engage in Self-Care Activities This will look different for different people. Some rave about meditation, others love the energy they get from exercise, some find joy in cooking, writing, reading, etc. Whatever you feel is your best self-care activity, make it part of your daily schedule.
Be Compassionate Towards Yourself The worst thing you can do is to criticize or question yourself about what you could have done differently or compare yourself to others. If you are feeling this way, it is best to avoid social media where people post great works of art or other productive endeavours. No one posts a picture of themselves cleaning out a tub of ice cream while lounging on their sofa, watching netflix, wondering if they should do more with themselves.
Connect with Friends and Family Call or get on a video conference call to talk about how you are doing with your friends and family. This would be a great opportunity for you to spend quality time with people you have not been able to due to work. Being willing to be vulnerable and talk about how losing your job has impacted you would help others open up about how they have been struggling.
Start a Support Group Connect with peers in your industry or friends who are dealing with job loss or uncertainty. Sharing experiences can be very validating. You can also learn from each other about any useful resources or new avenues to regain employment.
Reach out for Professional help Talking to a licensed mental health professional can help you better understand the meaning losing your job has had on you and process your feelings. Most mental health professionals are providing online or phone based sessions.
What Can I do While I am Unemployed?
Effectively coping with unemployment starts with identifying what is in your control vs. what is not in your control at this time. As odd as this may sound, to gain control is to accept what one cannot control. Once you figure out what is in your control, you can direct your energy towards these areas. Here are some suggestions:
Create or Reevaluate your Budget Creating a budget to see where and how you spend your money can help you identify where you can cut back on your spending. It can also help reduce some of the anxiety about your ability to cover costs in the short-term while you wait to find work. Not only does having a budget set you up with a system you can use in the short-term, but it also helps you towards longer term financial goals such as retirement.
Complete Projects you have put on the Backburner Many of us have various projects we have been procrastinating on. Maybe you have been wanting to reorganize your workspace at home to make yourself more productive; reorganize your closet; or get some writing done for a blog or a book. Completing tasks that have been at the back of your mind can relieve a lot of stress and positively contribute to feelings of productivity and personal satisfaction.
Engage in Volunteer Work Volunteering your time towards a cause can provide a sense of meaning, purpose, and structure. It also connects you socially with others. Right now health care workers and vulnerable groups need a lot of support and many people are finding creative ways to come together to provide support.
Consider some freelancing Freelance work opportunities have really taken off not just locally but internationally given how easily the internet can connect us with potential clients. A range of services can be delivered online. Check out Fiverr: www.fiverr.com for some opportunities.
Sign up for Online Courses There are a number of useful courses available online and the number and range of courses has grown in the past few weeks as most services have moved online. Expanding your skill set with such courses would make you a more valuable asset to a future employer.
Coaching and Podcasts There are a number of useful podcasts and audiobooks that help you identify areas that you can get stuck in personally and professionally and provide useful strategies to be more clear in your direction in life and career.
Get networking Online Some suggest that 85% of people were hired through networking activities. Increase your LinkedIn presence and connections. Post an article about your work, send messages and introduce yourself to others in your field. Find other online groups in your profession on Meetup.com. Work on improving the content of your social media platforms and increasing your followers. Many potential employers will find people to hire online or review applicants’ online presence.
Revamp your resume and cover letter template The first thing that employers notice is the formatting of your resume and first impressions matter. When employers are skimming through 100s of resumes, a clear, concise and polished resume will stand out more and is more likely to be reviewed and get you an interview.
Review the Government Assistant Programs The federal government has been updating and revising the benefits for people who lost their job during the pandemic. Find more information by reviewing this site regularly: www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html
There is some solace in knowing that this is a collective experience and being let go can largely be attributed to the pandemic and not to your value as an employee to your company. Your job loss is temporary and if history has taught us anything, it is that jobs do come back, it is just a matter of time.
Take advantage of the additional time you have right now combined with the fewer distractions we have due to COVID related shutdowns in order to work on personal pursuits. Treat the present moment as an opportunity to reevaluate where you are in your career and where you want to be headed once the pandemic is over. Regardless of your situation it is important to be compassionate towards yourself during this challenging time.