Being made redundant is a heavy blow at the best of times, but if the coronavirus pandemic has severely affected the industry you work in and you’ve been laid off as a result, it’s bound to feel particularly tough – both financially and emotionally.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for the UK show unemployment stood at 3.9% at the end of April, but as government support is withdrawn via the furlough scheme over the coming months, there are fears more redundancies will follow.
Unsurprisingly, not having a job during the pandemic – when finding a new one in a shrunken market seems almost impossible – is affecting people’s mental health.
New research by mental wellness platform, Modern Health, has found that a third of those unemployed due to Covid-19 say they’ve felt more stress and anxiety recently than any other time in their life, while 50% of those surveyed say they’re finding it difficult to sleep as a result of financial worries, and 83% are feeling a loss of control.
So what is the psychological impact of redundancy during this already uncertain time, and how can you help yourself to accept what’s happened and move forwards?
What you’re feeling is natural and valid
One of the things we’ve all heard – and possibly said – quite often over the past few months is the caveat that “other people have it worse”. This may always be true but the loss of lives and widespread pain brought about by the coronavirus crisis doesn’t take away from what you’re going through personally.
“Redundancy can have a huge impact on mental health and trigger a range of mental health issues. It may cause feelings of worry, anxiety, stress and depersonalisation. It may impact your sleep and confidence. You may also feel a loss similar to a bereavement,” says Babylon therapist Dr Helen Rutherford (babylonhealth.com).
Feeling secure and well-provided for is a basic human need, says psychiatrist Dr Andrew Iles, of the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Oxford.
“Anything which seeks to undermine that is likely to cause us to feel worried, depressed and fearful,” he says. “Jobs define us all; for those of us who have children, it is one way we perform our duty of being a role model. Losing one’s job can lead to feelings of embarrassment and shame, or the fear that other people might see us as unsuccessful.”
Let yourself grieve
The loss of a job can impact in similar ways to the loss of a relationship, loved one, or anything else important in your life – and you might go through stages while processing the loss, like anger, bargaining and despair, before you’re ready to move on to acceptance.
“Grief is the price we pay for loving someone, or investing our feelings heavily in a job or a business. If you gain from being close, or heavily invested in something, you grieve when that is taken away,” says Priory mental health expert, Dr Paul McLaren.
And this isn’t something we need to be ashamed of or worry isn’t normal. “Grief is not an illness, it’s a natural process of psychological adjustment to the loss of a significant part of our lives. It is not about forgetting either, or ‘just moving on’. It’s about how we come to live with a loss, and build our lives around the hole that is left.”
Bereavement counsellor Lianna Champ, author of How To Grieve Like A Champ, explains: “We value our work for a number of reasons – self worth, it pays the bills, it gives us a purpose, we get a sense of achievement, and we often spend more time with our colleagues than our family.”
After redundancy, she says, “we need to grieve the loss for our normal routines and all that is familiar, as well as grieving for our friends and colleagues in the workplace.”
What to do in the immediate aftermath
Firstly, talk. “Sharing your feelings is central to grieving,” says McLaren. “It’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to remember the good times. Don’t pretend to yourself or others that it doesn’t matter. Let them know it does. Watch out for denial.”
Next, take care of yourself: eat well, exercise, sleep, relax, and avoid unhelpful coping mechanisms like excess alcohol. Champ says: “Take some ‘me time’. Spend time with people you love and do things that make you feel good about yourself.”
And combating any negative feelings that may arise about yourself is also key – this is a time for a good dose of self-love.
“It’s really challenging not to take it personally, especially if we’ve been committed and have given 100% to our job. Self-doubt can creep in and make the future seem hopeless. [But] don’t let something bad make you lose sight of all that you have and all that you are,” she says.
How to move on
The loss of income may mean you need to get practical – find out how to claim assistance from the government and contact your local Citizens Advice if you’re unsure what financial help you’re entitled to or how to apply for it.
It might feel like there’s nothing but never-ending time ahead with the hole that losing your job leaves behind, but try to see this instead as an opportunity you might never have again.
“Factor your future planning into each day and have a structure,” suggests Champ. “This will put meaning into your day and will create a sense of having done something positive. Sometimes, being forced out of our comfort zone can be just the kick we need.
“Look at your contacts list and begin networking. Build on your CV and really think about the skills you have – not just in the workplace but your life skills too.”
You could also use the time for learning through an online course, or throw yourself into volunteer work.
“There is always something to do if we look,” says Champ. “Have faith. Show the world that you can adapt and find excitement in the unknown – it could end up being a blessing in disguise.
“We have to let go of trying to control and intellectualise every aspect of our lives and become more fluid, especially when something drastic happens to us, like losing our job.”