How to deal with losing your job

Woman holding box of office belongings

Clare Barry

Posted April 27, 2021

Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. Here’s how to stay positive.

The signs of Australia’s post-COVID economic recovery are looking good – shops, restaurants, bars and netball courts are buzzing again, and even the MCG is as good as full. 

But with the end of JobKeeper in late March, government experts fear that more than 100,000 people could face losing their jobs.

Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences, not just due to worries about financial security and how to pay the rent, but also because of a sense of loss of identity and self-esteem. “Jobs are more than just a pay packet, it’s a very big part of people’s identity,” says Melbourne-based psychologist Betty Chetcuti, a board member for the Australian Association of Psychologists. “When someone loses a job they can feel ‘what do I do now?’ ”

Betty says job loss and fear of losing a job are a common theme in discussions with clients, particularly leading up to and following the end of JobKeeper. “JobKeeper gave people a certain level of security, so the loss of it is really distressing,” she says. 

At Lifeline Australia, head of crisis services and quality Rachel Bowes says the end of JobKeeper has contributed to current demand of more than 30,000 calls a day, along with COVID-related issues and other life circumstances.

But while finding yourself out of work can produce all sorts of strong emotions, Betty says there are strategies you can use to manage the stress and stay mentally healthy.

Nine strategies for staying positive after losing your job

Remember, you are not your job

Losing a job can feel like a loss of self for many people, says Betty, so it’s important to focus on other aspects of your life that bolster you sense of identity. “It’s important to remember that we are not defined by our work. We are our qualities, our interests, our values, our friends and family, and work is just one thing that we do.”

Explore what you love to do

“Many of the people I speak to – when I ask what they love doing – they just don’t know,” says Betty. She suggests using this time between jobs to enjoy doing the things you love or to work out what they are, whether it’s a new sport, dancing, reading, cooking, online learning or coffee catchups with friends. Costs can be kept low – a weekly cafe coffee might cost $4.50 or a dance lesson $15 – and libraries and much online learning is free.

Build a new routine

While finding yourself out of work can upend your world, Betty says it’s important to keep to a routine. She advises waking before 8.30am and getting to sleep by 10.30pm to get eight healthy hours of sleep and keep in tune with circadian rhythms. An early-morning walk or other exercise can put you in a positive frame of mind, “plus it helps us release endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and noradrenaline which are all related to feeling great”.

Eat well to feed body and mind

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are a must. It’s important to try to eat unprocessed foods whenever possible to help stabilise blood-sugar levels and provide nutrients for healthy functioning and positive wellbeing. “Shopping at local markets and cooking with fresh ingredients can help us feel positive, inspired and proud of our creations,” says Betty.

Keep in touch with friends, family and former colleagues

Take care not to fall out of touch with friends and family. Former colleagues and employers from different jobs can be a valuable source of encouragement and inside information on the job-search front. Take small steps to seek work, such as updating your LinkedIn profile. Even incremental efforts are enough if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Be there for others 

Doing something for others – whether it’s coaching a kids’ sports team or offering a one-off hand to a friend – is linked to improved mood. “It’s an important way to feel connected and valued and gives a sense of belonging that helps to deal with increased loneliness in our society,” says Betty. Even just picking up rubbish on your walk or saying hello as you pass makes a difference. 

Think positive, acknowledge negative 

Staying positive is vital, says Betty. It’s not always easy to do, but it is something we can control. She suggests using time between jobs to learn how to identify negative emotions, physiological reactions and head talk. “Just observe them, it’s like saying, ‘hi, there you are’.” While it’s natural to want to suppress unpleasant emotions, you can try accepting them and learning to live with them. “It’s counterintuitive but it does work,” says Betty. 

Learn to deal with awkward conversations 

Are you dreading social occasions where you would usually talk about your work? Betty suggests you talk about being between jobs and being okay about that rather than embarrassed or ashamed. “You don’t need to go into the story, particularly if it’s unpleasant or difficult. But if someone hasn’t read the signals and keeps pushing, just gently divert the conversation, something like, ‘tell me about your work, it sounds so interesting’.”  

Get some help from a professional 

Difficult times can trigger old, deep feelings to resurface, and Betty advises that this can be when it’s important to find a professional to speak with – whether that’s a trained counsellor or a psychologist. You will need a GP referral to visit a psychologist.  

“It can be surprisingly positive and rewarding,” says Betty. “You’ve got a trusted, secure relationship with someone who is there to help you feel comfortable, feel safe and feel protected, then to discuss whatever it is that comes up.” She points out that the client can direct the pace of the conversation, what they want to talk about and don’t want to talk about. 

If you feel like you need urgent help, RACV has partnered with Lifeline to support free video counselling sessions for those experiencing a personal crisis, with no referral required.

If you or someone you know needs support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Lifeline’s video counselling services are available at no charge and no GP referral is required.