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Dear Job Doctor:
I was laid off over 3 months ago from a job I’ve had for over 8 years. I feel I’ve overcome the shock, anger and frustration, but have had trouble getting motivated. I’m plagued with anxiety and every day, despite my best attempts, don’t feel as if I’m really moving my job search forward. Any suggestions?
– Depressed in Durango
Dear DID: There’s no way to sugar coat it. We are living in trying economic times. And while by nature we may be a nation of optimists, the reality is that our national economic woes are creating a ton of anxiety and suffering.
For those who have unexpectedly lost their jobs it can be a traumatic and devastating experience. It’s hard to imagine, but the loss of a job is similar to other losses in life – a death, a divorce or breakup. Your daily routine and day-to-day habits are suddenly shifted in a massive way. You feel disoriented, aimless and lost.
According to author and grief expert Carole Brody Fleet, “More than simply a ‘means to an end’ (i.e., a paycheck), the loss of a job is actually one of the most devastating losses that a person can experience. So much of our identity, our self-esteem and to a certain degree, our self-respect is directly connected to what we do for a living.”
“Getting laid off is hard on everyone, and it’s a huge blow to your self-esteem,” says Dr. Susan Bernstein who has studied the effects of being laid off. “It’s really a form of shock or trauma, so the natural responses are fear, anger, sadness, and depression. We feel disoriented and without a direction. And we tend to beat up on ourselves for our negative feelings, sort of expecting ourselves to act as though everything is fine. It’s not fine. Unfortunately, people actually prolong those difficult feelings when they feel ashamed for feeling them. Then, they try to suppress the emotions. But those emotions generally linger. Whatever we resist, persists.”
For those who have been laid off, there are many common and natural emotions ranging from fear, loss of identity, shame/embarrassment, abandonment, anger and rejection. Many times these emotions lead to a loss of self esteem and confidence – and are replaced with destructive negative self talk, or what Dr. Bernstein calls “stinking thinking.”
“I hear people say, “I’ll never get a job,” or “I don’t have enough experience,” or “No one wants to hear from someone as old as me.” Dr. Bernstein says. “Until they clean up their “stinking thinking,” they risk sabotaging their job search. It’s vital to maintain a positive attitude. I encourage my clients to become aware of the “voice in their head” and to discern the positive, uplifting inner voices from the negative, unsupportive inner voices — even having them write down the negative self-talk and reversing or revising it.”
Carole Brody Fleet suggests that the best way to regain some focus and balance is to take immediate proactive steps. “Nothing helps boost self-esteem, energy and motivation more than being proactive.”
Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and advice columnist agrees with the proactive approach. Alpert is consulting with many clients who have recently lost their jobs in the finance industry.
“Taking a passive approach towards finding a new job doesn’t work as well as being a go getter,” Alpert advises. “Although between jobs at the moment, your new job is that of marketing executive and you are the product. So, take an inventory of your best qualities and strengths. Actually write them out – this helps to refresh your memory and stimulate you to market yourself.”
Alpert suggests composing a letter summarizing your background and expertise and send it, along with your resume, to 10-15 or more of your contacts, and in it ask that they also send it along to a few of their contacts.
“You will have successfully built a massive marketing machine.”
He also advises to add structure to your day by getting it to resemble a 9-5 workday as best as possible.
“A common habit that develops with people who are out of work is they stay up late and by the time they get going in the morning it’s 10 or 11,” Alpert says. “Make sure you’re in bed at a reasonable time and able to get up with the masses for the start of your day at 9:00 a.m. and then plan your day out. For example, 9-11 look at job sites, 11-12, send out resumes, 12-1 lunch, 1-2, follow up calls, 2-3, go to the gym, etc. This structure will help the person feel connected to mainstream and avoid getting lazy.”
According to Carole Brody Fleet, by taking proactive measures, “…you are psychologically taking control of the situation. You are taking positive steps to move forward. You are regaining a dogged determination; sending a message to others (as well as yourself!) that you may be “down for now”, but that you are not going to stay that way.”