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Stability to uncertainty: navigating job loss
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Stability to uncertainty: navigating job loss

Losing a job can affect a person's identity and sense of direction
Job loss and its impact on mental health
Representational image | Shutterstock

Dhruv Singla, 30, from Gurugram, believed that individuals’ performance at work is on par with what is expected of them, their job is secure. Unfortunately, this belief was dashed when he was abruptly laid off.

Singla struggled with self-doubts and low confidence. He constantly wondered if he could have done more to keep the job. “Even when the job loss was due to external factors, such as a bad market, I could not help but blame myself,” he says.

Moreover, he had to contend with depleting finances and social pressure that came with unemployment. “I was hesitant to go out with my friends when my savings were dwindling. I could not always participate in what they wanted to do because they were earning and I was not,” Singla says.

A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2015 analysed data from over 10,000 people in the United Kingdom and found that those who had experienced job loss had higher rates of depression, anxiety, and poor physical health than those who had not.

The lasting repercussions of being thrown off course

“In the cases that I have seen, after losing a job, most people experience financial fear. The feeling of being dependent on someone adversely affects their mental health and makes them anxious,” says Arushi Gupta, counselling psychologist, Delhi. Secondly, their self-esteem or the feeling of ‘why me?’ comes into the picture.

The link between job and self-worth

Since our identities are often closely tied to the work we do, a pink slip might affect one’s sense of self-worth which “makes it harder to cope”, says Gupta.

“Sometimes, a harmless joke can feel like a personal comment. And it feels like people are judging you as they have moved up in their lives,” says Singla. Slowly, the idea of not being employed increased his stress levels.

Reach out to friends or family for emotional support

Having a strong social support system can provide assurance and prevent the person from feeling isolated or alone. A positive and psychologically minded social support system can encourage the person to seek therapy, which can help them deal with the situation better.

“Family or friends should understand and empathise with the person’s situation without burdening them with their concerns or insecurities,” says Mahalakshmi Rajagopal, a counsellor based in Hyderabad.

Fear of judgement

In this situation, pressure from family and loved ones may add significantly to one’s distress. Gupta says, “When there is lack of acceptance or understanding from one’s own family members, it becomes a mammoth task to seek that understanding from others.” This may cause one to withdraw socially to avoid answering questions about one’s job status, she adds.

Rimsha Shafeeq, 27, human resources consultant from Gurugram, lost her job after seven months of joining. As someone who was already struggling with anxiety, the loss of her job began affecting her self-esteem.

“I had not told my family that I had lost my job because I knew they would ask me to come home,” says Shafeeq. The thought of having to leave the city she was settled in added to her distress. “I felt like my extended family knowing about this will result in gossip and they would not understand,” she says. She felt that her relatives would judge her for getting fired even though she had studied in one of the top management institutes in the country.

The insurmountable toll of uncertainty

“Uncertainty is one of the biggest reasons why anxiety occurs,” Arushi Gupta, counselling psychologist.

The combined pressure of depleting savings, being forced to return to her hometown, and worsening mental health due to job loss led Shafeeq to indulge in stress eating, spending impulsively, and partying a lot more than before. “I just wanted to escape that thought the entire time,” she says.

Fear of anticipating a job loss

A few months after being laid off, Shafeeq got a job. But for her, the stress of losing a job did not end there. “Even though I got a job, it is on a contract basis. Once my contract division is over, only then will they figure out if they want to make me permanent or not. So, a bit of stress is still there,” she says.

Singla mirrors this sentiment. “Even after I got another job, I was still on edge about what would happen if I suddenly lost it.” he says.

Ways to cope

Mahalakshmi and Gupta suggest coping strategies, including maintaining emotional stability and taking action to upgrade skills or actively searching for jobs. Seeking therapy can help with self-blame, responsibility, and low self-esteem. Allowing time to grieve the loss of the job and de-linking self-worth from the job are also important. “Going for therapy regularly helped as self-blame reduced. Therapy helped me focus on my strengths and helped me be less hard on myself. My inner voice which kept me blaming myself, slowly changed to acceptance and it helped me realise that it was okay to feel what I was feeling,” says Shafeeq.

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