Getting laid off or fired can be a serious emotional and financial shock to the system. But proper self-care can help you emerge stronger, more confident, and more successful than before.
There was a small part of me that was giddy when my boss broke the news that I was being laid off. I hated my windowless office, facing his private bathroom, and tiptoeing through office politics.
This moment of elation, however, was quickly overshadowed by reality: I was three months pregnant and had just used my rainy day fund as a downpayment on a house that I was now in danger of not being able to afford.
Exhausted but terrified, I immediately began looking for a new job. But there was a little voice in me that resisted. It kept asking, “Why are you working this hard to be miserable?” I knew I had to step back and show myself some love.
This is exactly what emotional wellness coach and LPN Crystal Sheffield-Baird teaches her clients. “When we’re in between jobs, self-care usually takes a backseat,” she says. But that doesn’t end up doing anybody much good, whether you’re immediately looking for a new job or taking a time out:
“Self-care keeps you energized and brings the best version of ourselves to our new career. It’s a good time to self-examine whether it’s time to pivot in your career trajectory. This will this give you focus on where to go next and what your priorities are.”
Here’s how to check in with yourself and ensure you’re doing just that.
According to Laura MacLeod, LMSW and founder of the From The Inside Out Project, the most important thing is to address immediate needs. “Assess your finances, and figure out whether or not you can pay your current bills. Get a handle on these needs, because doing so will help you prevent and manage your anxiety,” she says.
In my case, I knew my rainy day fund was gone, but I also had a pretty good grip on the rest of my finances. Rather than giving into panic and channeling my adrenaline into a frenzied job search, I started researching and planning.
Within a few days, I knew how much unemployment I’d get and how much health insurance would cost. I had all of my finances in an Excel sheet and made a list of people I could borrow money from if push came to shove, sketching out the best-case, worst-case and most-probable case scenarios.
I won’t lie: Practicing self-care in the form of taking yoga classes while unemployed felt selfish—and it’s a choice that not everyone on unemployment has access to, to be sure. But taking care of my mind and body in this way was a critical part of getting back to a place where I could bring my A-game to my new endeavors.
“Self-care is massively important for everyone, and especially for women, because we ladies are trained to put everyone else’s needs first,” says Jen Sincero, author of the New York Times best-selling book You Are a Badass.
“If we don’t take care of ourselves, not only will we eventually lose the ability to do so because we’ll be all ragged and depleted, but we won’t be of much use to anyone else, either. Taking time to do the tiniest things every day that lift you up and support you physically, emotionally and spiritually, and being conscious in the moment about the choices you’re making, can radically change your life.”
In other words: No matter what form it may take, make space for self-care; skimping on it is a surefire way to let this experience defeat and deplete you.
Money coach Emily Shutt urges people to focus on getting active above all else. “Because layoffs are often emotionally taxing, it’s important to incorporate some form of daily movement or exercise into your routine,” she says.
“This creates positive endorphins that allow you to think more creatively about how to move through the challenges that the layoff presents. Just 10 to 20 minutes of yoga, walking or anything low-impact will help you feel more grounded and capable of tackling what’s ahead.”
For me, relief came in the form of the aforementioned yoga. I signed up for a monthly pass and made a point to go to a morning class every day. It gave me a place to be, mental clarity, and good vibes during a hard time, but most importantly, it turned down the volume on my mental clatter, so that I could actually focus on what I wanted out of my career.
Despite the fact that I was less than heartbroken at the prospect of leaving my corporate prison, my ego had taken a hit and my brain raked up every negative professional memory it had in order to confirm how it felt. Logically, I knew that these were blips in an otherwise good career, but in my current state, they felt heavy and real.
I turned to a book I’d read back in graduate school, when a mean case of impostor syndrome left me feeling insecure and anxious. Among other things, David Burns’ Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, discusses how the emotions created by distorted thinking feel just as real as genuine feelings. The way to manage them is to write them out, see which cognitive distortions (such as all-or-nothing thinking, projection, etc.) are at play, and then rewrite these ideas based on a more reasonable reality.
Over the course of a few hours, I was able to dump my emotional baggage and replace it with uplifting reminders of my successful career. “All men hate working with me” quickly became “Actually, most people love working with me, but some find my straight-shootin’ ways terrifying, and that’s OK.”
Regardless of how much you hate your job, being laid off can still be a source of embarrassment. Part of me wanted to hide under a rock until I was re-employed, but another part of me needed reassurance more than ever.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Anna Kress advises resisting the urge to lick your wounds alone. “Once you start sharing your feelings about being laid off with friends, you will quickly realize that most people have felt the sting of being dumped, rejected, fired, or laid off. Getting support from others can reduce the amount of time you spend ruminating and increase your motivation to bounce back—or maybe even bounce forward.”
Once I opened up to my friends, they became my most powerful allies. They reassured me, inspired me, offered resources, and confided that they’d always wondered how I lasted so long in the dungeon. They started sending work my way, and before I knew it, I was making double my previous hourly rate doing work I really enjoyed. It was the perfect no-pressure way to explore new options.
The day I was laid off was probably the most “successful” I’ll ever be as the status quo defines it: I was the coiffed working mom with a six-figure income and a nice retirement portfolio. I could buy pretty much anything I wanted, but happiness eluded me.
After a few weeks of extreme self-care, I got to a place where I could focus on myself and wrote down everything I wanted from a job, making a “thanks, but no thanks!” list. I got back to work, but went from striving to find work-life balance to no longer needing it: I love my work as much as my life, and regardless of how much each takes up, they always feel well proportioned. And should they ever not, I know self-care is a big part of striking that balance again.