Job Losses Carry High 'Stress Tag'

If you've lost your job, there are several ways you can react. One is with calm, thinking, "I can find another job, and I have money saved, so it will be all right." Or, Brantley said, you might react with "catastrophic thoughts," such as you'll never find a job again, or you'll lose your house, and that will cause a reaction within the body.

"An important element is the perception of the situation and the narrative a person assigns to it," Brantley said.

Both McKee and Brantley pointed out that the Chinese symbol for crisis contains two elements: One is danger, and the other is challenge or opportunity.

"Don't look through the danger lens only," McKee suggested. "Look through the challenge lens as well and try to figure out what you're learning from this experience, even if it's just learning how to deal with stress better."

McKee and Lieberman noted that it's not only those who've lost their jobs who are feeling stressed these days. Families of those who are unemployed, and even those who still have their jobs, are also being affected.

"Survivor's guilt is rampant in the workplace, and workplaces are much more stressful. Plus, people are supposed to feel grateful that they still have a job, even though they're being asked to do more and more," said McKee.

More information

Here's information from the U.S. Labor Department on handling sudden unemployment.

Coping With Job Loss

Experts say there are a number of things you can do to ease the stress of unemployment:

  • Tell your family about the job loss, and reassure children that it will be OK. Don't try to keep the job loss a secret, advises Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Neuropsychiatric Institute.
  • File for unemployment benefits right away, and find out about continuing your health benefits.
  • Take a few days of "me" time and pamper yourself to get into a better mindset.
  • Turn your work day into a day of looking for work.
  • Take some time for reflection, and use this opportunity to figure out what type of work might really make you happy, says Dr. Jeff Brantley, director of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at Duke Integrative Medicine in North Carolina.
  • Don't isolate yourself. Continue to socialize. Look for volunteer opportunities, recommends Michael McKee, a psychologist at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
  • Exercise regularly and eat well to keep yourself healthy and to help stave off depression.
  • If you find that you just can't shake that anxious feeling, McKee says to practice some sort of relaxation, such as prayer, meditation or yoga. Try to change your thinking by writing down three positive affirmations every day. He said this helps you realize what your best qualities are, and helps to re-channel your thoughts in a more positive way.
  • If you find that you just can't look for a job anymore, or if people are telling you that you're irritable or angry all the time, or if you're withdrawing from people and activities you once enjoyed, or you're turning to alcohol or other substances to feel better, seek professional help.

SOURCES: Michael McKee, Ph.D., psychologist and stress expert, Center for Integrative Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio; Carole Lieberman, M.D., psychiatrist and stress expert, University of California, Los Angeles, Neuropsychiatric Institute; Jeff Brantley, M.D., director, mindfulness-based stress reduction program, Duke Integrative Medicine, Durham, N.C.

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