If you’re struggling with your mental health after a layoff, you’re not alone. Read on to learn more about common responses to a recent layoff, as well as strategies for coping. 

Prior to opening the doors of Stella Nova, I was working full time at a mental health tech startup here in San Francisco. I loved that job. It was intellectually engaging, my coworkers were great, I was learning a ton.

And then, three years in, my boss and our COO called me in to tell me that I was getting laid off. It was quick and unexpected, although looking back I can see obvious signs that layoffs were on the way. But in that moment, I was completely stunned. I canceled my after work plans and met a few (newly former) coworkers at a nearby bar to commiserate.

Coming to the tech industry as a mental health professional, I was unprepared for layoffs being something that could happen to me. They don’t really happen in the healthcare or university settings where I’d worked previously. And whew, it was rough.

Everyone’s experience of a layoff is unique. Things like your financial situation, immigration status, and support system all influence how a layoff impacts you. But in working with clients who have been through layoffs too, there are common themes that come up again and again.

Layoffs Can Be a Major Blow To Self-Confidence

In the US, we place a huge cultural value on work and career. For many of us, our profession is not just how we make a living, but a key piece of our identity. 

That means that layoffs are more than a threat to our immediate financial stability. Being told you’re no longer needed in a position can be a huge blow to our sense of self-worth. Feelings of shame and embarrassment are common. This happens even in situations where it’s clear the layoff was not related to performance or skill. Many of my clients have brought up feelings of imposter syndrome taking hold. 

Having your sense of self-confidence shaken feels especially difficult when there’s pressure to find a new job. Putting yourself out there in applications and interviews is daunting in the best of times. But following a layoff, we’re especially vulnerable to taking rejections personally. 

If you’re feeling discouraged, you might find yourself engaging in avoidant behavior as a way to cope. For example, declining invitations from family or friends can be a way to avoid embarrassing questions or pushy suggestions. You might find yourself procrastinating putting your resume together, or being especially perfectionist with job applications. 

Photo of a woman's torso as she packs up a box of office supplies, as though she has just been laid off.

Layoffs Can Bring Up Intense Uncertainty

Getting laid off is a real-world problem with significant consequences to your life. So it makes sense that people grapple with intense feelings of fear and anxiety around the uncertainty that it creates.

How do you typically handle uncertainty? Some of us tend to underfunction — shutting down, feeling helpless, or even finding ourselves paralyzed to move forward in any direction. We may look to others to rescue us or wait for a sign for what to do next.

Other folks respond to uncertainty by overfunctioning — diving head first into problem solving mode and getting laser focused on the pieces of a situation we can control. Being action-oriented can be a huge asset, of course! But it can also mean that we don’t take time we need to reflect, regroup, and move forward with intention.

Professionally dressed Asian American woman on the phone while she browses the classified ads in a newspaper.

Layoffs Can Bring Up Feelings of Anger and Betrayal

When you’ve dedicated thousands of hours of your life to advancing the goals of your employer, being left high and dry feels like a betrayal. 

There are often leadership failures that have contributed to a layoff. What’s more, people may receive conflicting information in the weeks leading up to being let go. I’ve heard several stories of clients being told their position would be safe when it was not. 

It’s common and understandable to be angry. And hurt, which is often hanging out just under the surface of anger.

Some of that emotion may be directed towards executives you might not even know. But the most painful feelings can come up in relation to your direct manager, or other people you worked with closely. Possibly even cared about on a personal level.  

Being laid off and the feelings of betrayal that go with it can impact trust in other personal relationships, as well as in one’s future professional life.

Coping With a Recent Layoff

If you’ve been laid off recently, consider the following tips for managing the mental health impact. 

  • Create a routine: It doesn’t have to be rigid, but creating some structure in your daily routine can help maintain a sense of normalcy. Build in time for job hunting or planning, as well as for self-care. Make sure you also include social activities with family or friends. 
  • Give yourself permission to grieve: Losing your job comes with a lot of difficult emotions, including grief. Make sure to give yourself space to feel and process them (especially if you’re an overfunctioner who jumps into problem solving mode). Not only is this good for your mental health, it can also help you develop greater clarity on your next steps.

  • Get support: Layoffs can bring up feelings of embarrassment or shame, so having a safe space to talk through it is important. What type of support do you need? A career counselor or coach may be useful for practical support. Therapy can help with processing your experience and supporting you through decision making. Friends and family are obviously also an important part of most people’s support systems. It may help to let people know specifically what you’re looking for — A place to vent? Help with brainstorming or problem solving? A fun distraction for the afternoon?

About the Author

Dr. Maya Borgueta is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Stella Nova Psychology. She specializes in supporting professional women’s mental health at work and at home. Her clients learn to manage perfectionism, navigate imposter syndrome, build self-compassion, and develop stronger boundaries personally and professionally. She is passionate about helping people heal from painful negative experiences and traumas that happen in the workplace. 

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