Prioritizing your health after a job layoff

Prioritizing your health after a job layoff

It’s a sudden life change that many employees don’t see coming: layoffs.

“A person’s response to an unexpected job loss might depend on personality, finances and career situation,” says Dr. Thomas Harrington, a family medicine physician at Aurora Health Care.

Although everyone responds to job loss differently, it’s common for some to feel increased levels of stress or struggle with a sense of identity, impacted daily routine and feelings of isolation. Dr. Harrington has advice for how to manage mental and physical health after a layoff.

Identifying and managing stress

Applying and interviewing for new positions, filing for unemployment and searching for health insurance can be stressful and overwhelming for job seekers.

According to Dr. Harrington, the effects of stress are dependent upon the duration of stress. Acute stress, which lasts a couple of hours, can raise a person’s blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar. In turn, these can create short-term physical tension and mental strain. Chronic stress, on the other hand, has more negative consequences and can lead to everything from heart disease and obesity to depression and panic disorders.

“It’s important to develop techniques or skills that can be used while feeling stressed,” says Dr. Harrington. “These include breathing techniques, meditation, walking, exercising, drawing, painting or listening to music.”

Taking a step back and identifying sources of stress is also important. Dr. Harrington suggests working to eliminate sources of stress through rearrangement and reprioritization.

“If a person is let go from a job that has been a source of negative and chronic stress, taking some time to reflect, process and plan a new path might be a great idea,” says Dr. Harrington.

Workplace identity and routines

In the United States, most full-time employees work 40 hours a week. With that time commitment, personal identity and workplace identity can easily intertwine, and it may feel complicated to untangle those identities after a layoff.

“Losing a job could create an identity crisis if that identity is centered around a single role,” warns Dr. Harrington. “Reviewing the other roles in our lives, such as partner, parent, friend or coach can remind us we are much more than the job we do or the career we have.”

A sudden shift in daily routine may also be hard to navigate.

“Sometimes a break from daily routines is an opportunity to review values and priorities and create a new daily routine,” says Dr. Harrington. “Before feeling the need to jump right back into a routine, take an inventory of your life and ensure you are going back to what matters most.”

Feelings of isolation

Isolation has been associated with insomnia, anxiety, depression and suicide. Losing a job can cause some to feel shame, which can lead to isolation.

If someone begins to feel isolated or notices a change in sleeping or eating habits, Dr. Harrington recommends taking the simple step of reaching out to a close friend or relative to meet for coffee or lunch.

“It’s always a good idea to find and seek out a coach, therapist, primary care provider or somebody who can help them navigate health concerns or conditions,” says Dr. Harrington.

Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free online quiz to learn more. 

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About the Author

Danielle Mandella
Danielle Mandella

Danielle Mandella, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator in Greater Milwaukee, Wis.