10 Tips for Surviving a Layoff

By Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO


Getting laid off is one of the most stressful things that can happen to you.  I know, because it has happened to me -- twice.  It can be scary and anxiety-producing, especially in the first few days and weeks following your last day on the job.

Here’s what you can do (and what you shouldn’t do) in order to get through this time of transition with a minimum of suffering and scarring:


1) DO accept what has happened.  Any sudden, significant loss (even if you knew it was coming) can be hard to process and accept; a layoff is no exception.  The sooner you can accept the fact of the layoff, though, the better off you will be.  Spending time hoping your employer will give you your job back or wishing to go back in time or to wake up from this bad dream will only prolong and exacerbate your distress.


2) DON’T isolate yourself. Staying in the house all day, day after day, can be very unhealthy and depressing. Go outside at least once a day, spend time with supportive friends and loved ones at least once or twice a week, and be sure to do some face-to-face networking.


3) DO stay as busy as possible.  Then you won’t have time to worry.  Keep to a regular schedule. Spend a good amount of your time job hunting as effectively as possible, networking, and keeping your skills sharp, and fill the rest of your time with constructive activity.  Volunteer (highly recommended) or teach yourself something new.

Be sure to spend some time each day doing something that is just for you, and just for enjoyment.  The job hunting you do each day is important for your career, and the enjoyable things you do each day are important for your state of mind – you need to attend to both.

4) DON’T be cruel (to yourself). You are not to blame for getting laid off. What would you say to a friend who had suffered a big loss? Say those things to yourself. Judging yourself harshly in circumstances that were/are outside of your control serves no good purpose.

5) DO use the past tense. A layoff is an event, not an ongoing process; put your former job firmly in the past, right away, both when speaking to others and when you are thinking about it in your own mind. The layoff isn’t happening to you; it has happened. Finding your next job and moving forward with your career is the process you are now in. Don’t get stuck mentally at the moment you got laid off (for example, by “taking some time off” from job hunting).


6) DON’T look back. Not only should you look and move forward, but it is best to actively avoid looking backwards. Don’t ruminate or reminisce about your former workplace. Keep former colleagues in your network, but don’t rehash past workplace dramas and injustices, whether the former co-workers have been laid off too or still work for your former employer. 


7) DO start a journal. Write down whatever you are thinking; get it out of your head and onto the computer screen (or paper). Those who have never kept a journal before may be surprised at how helpful and effective this can be in clearing out repetitive upsetting thoughts and worries. (It is probably best not to share what you write in this journal with anyone else, though, especially online!)


8) DON’T spend time with negative thoughts and/or people. It is normal and understandable to have strong negative feelings about the layoff, especially if you didn’t see it coming or feel it was in some way personal or if the termination was handled with insensitivity.  Prolonged self-pity, anger, or fantasies of revenge, though, can become a time sink. They can and will disrupt your peace of mind, interfere with restful sleep and affect your mental and physical health. They can immobilize you and do harm to you (and will have no effect on those who have harmed you).Negative people can also drain you of your confidence and optimism, especially those who have nothing but pity for you.

Bitterness, resentment, and despair may also interfere with your ability to search for a job effectively, which can lengthen your unemployment. Simple meditation techniques can help to replace negative thoughts with neutral or positive ones and reduce anxiety – even a few minutes a day can help a great deal.


9) DO get regular physical exercise. Very highly recommended, especially cardio: walking, running, biking, swimming, hiking, elliptical machine, etc. It is great for stress relief, can help you sleep better (adequate rest is also very important) and has many other benefits for your physical and mental well-being. The less you feel like doing this (mentally), the more you need it. Force yourself to go out for a walk if you have to.

Exercising can also be a way of reclaiming a day that has otherwise been disappointing or stressful – at the end of it, you can say, “at least I got in a workout;” it can help to make you feel less powerless.  (Be sure to get the OK from your doctor before beginning an exercise program.)


10) DON’T make major changes in other areas of your life.  Dealing with fact of the layoff and all that follows it is enough to occupy you fully for the near future at least. Now is not the time to make other big changes that are voluntary, as your judgment is likely to be poor because you’ll be overwhelmed.

And, believe it or not, there are some benefits to being laid off:

  • Relief from worrying about the impending layoff (and the freedom to turn your full attention to what comes next).
  • It can force you out of a rut; you may find yourself in the near future somewhere else, doing something you love that you never would have tried if not for the layoff.
  • It can galvanize you to be more proactive in your career, permanently.  You will understand fully that all jobs are temporary and you must look out for yourself.
  • Once you have survived a layoff, it will never be as scary as it was before it happened.

For those who have been laid off, you have my sympathy and my sincere wish that your unemployment is brief. Know that you will survive this. Good luck!

Ellen Mehling
Author: Ellen Mehling
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