Layoffs Can Be Tough On Your Mental Health. Here’s How to Cope, From People Who’ve Done It
Kat McGlynn, 40, had worked for an environmental nonprofit in New York City for more than a decade before being laid off in August 2022. It was unexpected, and McGlynn says her mental health was most certainly impacted by the decision. What would she tell potential employers in an interview? How could she possibly explain that a company she’d been employed by for so long, no longer deemed her valuable?
“I had a lot of stress about making sure I perfected my spiel about being laid off so that it wasn’t perceived negatively,” McGlynn says.
Unsurprisingly, 48 percent of Americans have anxiety related to layoffs, according to career website Zippia. The decision, while totally out of your control, can also invoke feelings of shame and failure. But layoffs are nothing new. 40 percent of Americans have been laid off at least once, and 28 percent were laid off in the last two years alone as the COVID-19 pandemic created economic hardship and job loss, Zippia reports.
Over the past few years, media coverage has highlighted what people should focus on in today’s era of career advancement and how, in many cases, it’s a seeker’s market in terms of being able to prioritize certain benefits, such as remote working. But one area that’s been overlooked is the mental toll job loss can take. Virtually everyone knows someone who’s been laid off in today’s day and age, making it much less of a taboo topic than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean it can’t do a number on someone’s confidence and mental health. Here, experts and affected workers open up about how to cope with job loss and even come out stronger on the other side.
Let go of the stigma
When McGlynn started job hunting, she was shocked to find that being laid off wasn’t something prospective employers dwelled on. “I was surprised how in many cases, it was stress over nothing because no one would even ask,” she tells POPSUGAR. “In the cases where I was asked about it, it honestly felt pretty out of touch, like that’s just not a thing we ask people anymore.”
Career expert Mandi Woodruff-Santos agrees, often telling her clients not to let stigma get the best of you. Woodruff-Santos is the founder of the MandiMoney Makers professional development community and cohost of the Brown Ambition podcast, and works with women (primarily women of color) ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s, who not only are experiencing layoffs but also the shame and anxiety tied to them. These feelings are certainly normal, but it’s key to not let them eat away at you to the point that it hinders your next job search, she says.
“Our jobs are important, but they are only a fraction of who we are as people.”
Woodruff-Santos says that’s especially important when it comes to salary negotiation in your next gig. One of the biggest downfalls of letting a layoff impact your self-confidence is thinking that you’re not in a position to negotiate for a higher offer in your next role because you’ve recently been let go. But it’s rare in today’s day and age that going back and forth in the negotiation process is going to negate your chances of securing that opportunity, says Woodruff-Santos.
Just because your skills were not essential to the business that let you go, doesn’t mean they’re not essential to the business that’s looking to hire you, Woodruff-Santos explains. “They should still be paying a fair market value for those skills, and you have to have that internal chutzpah to understand, ‘I’m going to ask for my value and push back a little bit,'” she says.
Find your community
With stories about massive layoffs sometimes seemingly taking over the news cycle, it can be easy to feel like the future seems bleak in terms of prospects. But it also means that a lot of your peers are also going through it, which can be helpful both for simply venting, as well as for sharing job search tips and tricks, as well as simply lifting each other up when sharing wins.
“The reason I launched MandiMoney Makers and made it a community and not just a course is because I wanted women, especially women of color, to have a place to go to where they could commiserate, where they could say, ‘Here’s what happened to me today,’ and where they could have sounding boards and support systems when feeling knocked down by the job search,” Woodruff-Santos says. “By not having a support system who understands what you’re going through to build you back up, you’re only making it harder on yourself because you’re moving in a place of isolation, and it can get dark really fast if you let yourself move alone.”
Leaning on your support system can also lead to new opportunities and “a sense of togetherness that can provide much-needed emotional support after job loss,” adds Meisha-ann Martin, PhD, an industrial and organizational psychologist and director of people analytics at Workhuman. “We’ve seen this in full force with the #OpentoWork hashtag on LinkedIn – complete strangers are reaching out to help to destigmatize negative associations around individuals who have lost their jobs.”
McGlynn also found that leaning on close friends was helpful both personally and professionally. It ultimately took her about eight months to land her current position working for a synagogue, which came with a 30 percent increase in salary.
“I had a few very close friends also looking for work at the same time, including a former colleague,” McGlynn says. “That was a sweet spot because she could not only provide emotional support, but she was also a key piece of providing feedback on résumés and applications because she worked with me, and I reciprocated in the same way for her.”
Let LinkedIn work for you, not against you
Make no mistake about it: LinkedIn is having a moment on the social media platform spectrum right now, and you likely won’t find a career expert that won’t stress the importance of keeping your profile and presence current even when you’re not actively looking for a new job.
At the same time, it can be easy to get sucked into a comparison trap and get down about your situation if you just give in to scrolling through everyone’s positive news and updates, which McGlynn admits she’s sometimes fallen victim to.
“That was really hard for me, and it was not a healthy mental space that I wanted to spend time in,” McGlynn says. “I had to make a concerted effort to not scroll the feed and really use LinkedIn with intent for research of companies, research of open roles, and trying to find connections.”
In that same vein, having been in her previous role for so long led McGlynn to realize the importance of networking. “I was pretty out of touch with the job market and wish I’d kept those skills current,” she says. “That’s something I’m going to do going forward, keeping up the drumbeat of networking, and keeping up with my LinkedIn profile. That’s my biggest takeaway and the thing I try to show other people when they’re doing a job search. I think it’s easier to now take some of those best practices and carry them forward before I need them again, when my next job search is hopefully of my own volition.”
Consider your next-job needs . . . and deal-breakers
When Lela Moore, 46, of Maplewood, NJ, was laid off from her job as a senior manager of digital marketing content at a New York City-based running organization, she had only been working there for 10 months, after having spent more than a decade on staff at a major newspaper. Since the layoffs took place at the height of the pandemic during the summer of 2020, Moore and her affected colleagues knew they might be were coming – which helped to somewhat brace herself mentally. But that didn’t make them feel any less personal.
“No job is perfect, but if people have the chance to actively improve their circumstances, they should feel empowered to take it. There is nothing wrong with wanting better for yourself.”
Moore’s layoffs came at a time when the US was starting to experience a social justice reckoning on the heels of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The company she’d worked for had told her and other staffers that people came to them to “read about running, they didn’t want to hear about politics, which was not what members of the community were telling us,” Moore says.
This, along with allegations of racism and sexism within the workplace that were starting to come to a head before being made public, made Moore think about what she would and wouldn’t tolerate from a future employer and that it was important that her values aligned with theirs. After six months of applying, she put her job search on hold, focusing on freelance writing before deciding to go back to grad school to pursue a degree in library science this fall.
“Not having to answer to anyone, being my own boss, and being able to make my own schedule helped with my mental health and outlook, especially since I had a two-year-old at the time,” she says. “I wish I’d realized sooner that I didn’t want to do marketing work and the current job market wasn’t going to work for me. Now I want to continue freelancing but want to combine [my educational and professional backgrounds] and hopefully work in a school library, helping kids to become media-literate.”
“When people are looking for their next opportunity, they can avoid jobs that won’t be a fit by establishing a list of employer ‘red flags’ that they know will make their experience unenjoyable,” Martin adds. “No job is perfect, but if people have the chance to actively improve their circumstances, they should feel empowered to take it. There is nothing wrong with wanting better for yourself.”
Make time for self-care
Saurabh Shah, 29, had worked in the technology industry in the San Francisco, CA, area for seven years when he was laid off from his role as a recruiter at the end of 2022. He’s found that one of the toughest parts of looking for a new job has been how time-consuming the process is, which has sometimes left him in a tough headspace.
“I tend to dread Fridays because my job search will have to pause as people start to sign off for the weekend and I know that’s a day when I usually won’t hear back with any updates,” he says. “I still continue to apply and reach out to people throughout the weekend, but I’ll also try to do something fun for myself like going on a hike, or spending time with friends and family, to give myself a break from it.”
McGlynn shares that sentiment, noting that while she did make time to get together with friends, she wishes she’d prioritized her own self-care more while she was job-hunting.
“In hindsight, I wish I’d done more things like going to museums and that I felt the freedom to do more cultural visits, but the financial stress was so great that I really didn’t feel like I could take time to do more of that,” she says. “I always felt there was more I could be applying to or preparing for interviews.”
Martin also stresses the importance of not making your work your entire life and personality.
“Our jobs are important, but they are only a fraction of who we are as people. If you’re able, after experiencing job loss, take time to reconnect with who you are – not just in regard to what you offer in the workplace, but also your personal life,” she says. “Taking time to invest in yourself and your relationships can help you reevaluate your priorities and take a more informed next step in your career.”