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Coping with Stress from Job Loss

The word “stress” is a term first studied by Hans Selye back in 1936.  However, he was challenged to come up with a cohesive definition for stress because everyone seemed to respond or be affected differently by situations which could be considered “stressful”. He postulated that this was largely a result of differing perspectives of events considered stressful. Understandably, many find the loss of a job to be very upsetting. It’s important to understand why some find job loss more stressful than others. To do this, it’s helpful to begin by understanding how one is appraising the event of a job loss.


Often the greatest impact of job loss stems from individuals connecting their worth to their work. This tends to be especially relevant for males who are taught from a young age that their accomplishments connect to their identity, however this can also be true for women. People who tie their work to their worth have thoughts such as “I am important/valued/loved because I am successful.” If you connect work and worth together, you are at greater risk of stress induced emotional suffering when you lose your job because of the threat this event is to how you see yourself.


A second aspect of job loss that can be stressful is believing that you are unable to provide for your family. Once again, males are more likely to take a great deal of pride in being the financial provider for their family. With job loss comes a feeling of being unable to meet the needs of their family. Additionally, the individual may experience added pressure and tension from one’s spouse during the financial strain that job loss brings.


Thirdly, it’s easy to begin to worry about the future and how one is going to meet other financial obligations with a loss of income. Debts and bills still require payment, as well as the costs of meeting our basic needs, such as food and shelter. There may be fears around what the future will look like if you aren’t able to meet financial goals or plans. Any of these three experiences will heighten the stress of job loss.


Given that the experience of stress is primarily a result of one’s perspective, the next step is to examine how you are appraising job loss and see if there are some ways in which your thinking may be contributing to how stressed you feel.


You may be having thoughts such as:

“This proves I’m no good.”

“I no longer have a purpose!”

“I’ve let my family down.”

“What if I can’t pay my bills?”

“I’m screwed!”


Challenging Your Thinking

If any of the above sounds familiar to you, begin to challenge these thoughts with some of the following questions:

“This proves I’m no good.”

Does losing your job actually mean you are no longer “good”? You may know peers or colleagues who have also recently lost their job – would you also consider them to be “no good” anymore? Are you defining yourself based solely on one area of life? Are there other areas in your life where you can still feel good about?

“I no longer have a purpose”

Work or career is only one of many routes to finding purpose in life. What other areas in life are fulfilling that you haven’t considered? It could be the role of being a parent, spouse, or friend. Some people cultivate purpose in life through faith or through works of service, such as helping those in need, or offering kindness to others to help make the world a better place.

“I’ve let my family down.”

If you’ve defined yourself as being a “provider”, you may feel like you have left your family down by being unable to financially care for them for a time. Ask yourself if there are other ways that you continue to provide for your family. Perhaps you provide wisdom, encouragement, laughter, or emotional support? During this time when you are unable to provide the same financial support, see if you can focus your energy into other ways that you provide for your family.

“What if I can’t pay my bills?”

“What if” statements can bring about a lot of anxiety, because it’s like watching a scary movie that you turn off at the worst possible moment without finishing the story. This gives an illusion that everything really did end right at that horrible moment. However, this catastrophic thinking isn’t accurate, and instead the story often finishes okay. Ask yourself what you would realistically do next if you found out you couldn’t pay your bills? What plan could you come up with? Writing this plan down will help keep it from spinning around in your mind.

I’m screwed!”

This thought is a form of overgeneralization, where you predict the future based on your present circumstances. You may worry you won’t find another job or be able to keep afloat financially, but remember that things are always changing. Remind yourself that where you’re at today is not indicative of what the future will be like. You may also be forgetting to take into account ways in which you aren’t “screwed”. The present may be different in some aspects, but in what other aspects is it unchanged? Perhaps you still have a great social group, or hobbies you are still able to enjoy.


It’s possible to work towards a respectful view of yourself and a hopeful view of the future by carefully watching your internal dialogue. Now is not the time for self-abuse by barraging yourself with a lot of negative thinking. Challenging your thinking isn’t about thinking positively, it’s about learning to appraise your situation more realistically by correcting the negative thoughts with more balanced thinking.


Losing your job is a painful experience and is fraught with a lot of uncertainty, fears, and sometimes shame. If you find you are struggling to manage your thoughts or your emotional response from job loss, please connect with us at Living Well, where we can work together to help equip you to get through this difficult time.


Karla Reimer, MA specializes in the areas of stress management, anxiety, and decision making, as well as many others. For more information on Karla, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.