Acton Networkers


Emotions and Stress


This document covers the emotional/stress side of dealing with job loss. I extracted heavily from a document I found on the National Veterans Training Institute ( I spoke with Cheryl Swears, publication manager (800) 451-5759 and received permission to use this material. Excerpted from Chapter 3 Coping with Unemployment.

Section 3.4 and 3.5 in the write up covers in particular, the section on emotion/stress. I mentioned one specific counseling service and could use a few more suggestions to provide some choices. If you can recommend any, please let me know.

Chapter 3 Coping with Unemployment

Excerpted with permission from The National Veterans' Training Institute,

Unemployment affects individuals both emotionally and financially. Typically, the reduction of income is the first noticeable change in the household. As the period of unemployment lengthens, the emotional impact and the resulting stress become a greater burden. Together these factors can damage an otherwise stable family environment or personal relationships. Understanding and taking action to control the negative effects of unemployment are the focus of this section.

3.1 Taking action

Taking action will require adequate planning if you are to be successful. This planning should be based on a thorough investigation and self-evaluation. It should be done along with those persons having the greatest knowledge of your situation or those who will be most affected by these decisions. Much of the planning and decision-making, however, must be done by yourself. Be sure to take enough time to think and collect information. Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed by others.

3.2 Plan a budget

As soon as you become aware of a layoff or termination, you should quickly face the financial realities of your job loss. Your income will be lower. By developing budgetary plans early, you can forestall or avoid completely, more severe spending reductions later. Once your spending plans are in place, you will be free to concentrate on your job search activities. Furthermore, taking these actions tend to reduce anxiety and stress.

In preparing a budget, the following items must be considered:

Cash on hand

Monthly living expenses

Sources of income

Job search expenses

Expenses are of two types -- fixed and discretionary. There are certain fixed monthly living expenses that must be paid. These include mortgage or rent payments, utilities and property taxes. Discretionary expenses include entertainment and clothing. But some expenses such as transportation and food fall into both categories. Reduce or eliminate discretionary expenses at the first sign of your job loss. Above all, do not take on any new debts unless absolutely necessary.

3.3 Plan daily accomplishments

When the structure of the work environment is removed, it is all too easy to "fritter" away your time. By planning daily goals into your schedule, you are less likely to harm your self-esteem. You should prepare goal lists both daily and weekly. As you complete each task, you should check it off your list. Such routines organize your days and make you aware of your accomplishments.

3.4 Understanding typical reactions to job loss

Although our jobs provide us with money and thereby a particular standard of living, they also make us feel productive and useful -- to ourselves, our families, and society. Our jobs give us a sense of belonging and contributing to a group -- whether it be our work unit, company, or our union. Frequently, when we are asked about who we are, we describe ourselves in terms of our work (i.e., "I am an engineer"). Thus, our identities and self-respect are dependent on our jobs to a great extent. The sudden loss of employment causes disruptions in our lives, reorders our priorities (both personal and financial), and damages our self-esteem. Many people are not adequately prepared to handle the stress of unemployment. They are unable to deal with the emotional strain upon family relationships, friendships, or the anxiety of possibly relocating to a new area.

Like all major changes in our lives, the fear of the "unknown" is a substantial hurdle in coping with unemployment. When we lose our job, we may experience a loss similar to a death of a close friend or relative. And although the degree of emotional loss may be less, most of us will experience a similar grieving process. The Continuum Center of Oakland University has identified the typical stages of grief following job loss. Read through the descriptions below. If you find you are "stuck" in one stage, you may want to talk to someone, perhaps even a professional counselor, about your feelings.

Stage 1. Happiness or shock and denial

Some people at first feel wonderful -- happy at having a "vacation" or relief that the waiting is over. For most of us there is a numbness. We don't believe that we really have lost our job, we hope for a recall when that is very unlikely. We don't act, because we do not really accept our loss.

Stage 2. Emotional release

We need to vent our feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, jealousy, etc. Holding in feelings may lead to physical symptoms or may delay moving on to action.

Stage 3. Depression and physical distress

We feel lost and helpless. We doubt our abilities. We may feel hopelessness. We show physical signs of stress like sleeplessness, loss of appetite or back and stomach problems.

Stage 4. Panic and guilt

We have trouble thinking clearly and cannot plan effectively. We feel responsible for the layoff even though we had no control over it. We keep thinking, "if only." We try to do everything at once, and do nothing efficiently.

Stage 5. Anger and hostility

This is an important part of the recovery process. Anger can be positive, but we feel angry at those around us. We need to learn to use these strong feelings to give us the energy to make plans and move on to the next stage.

Stage 6. Renewed hope and rebuilding

We begin to plan for our new life without the old job. We are able to take constructive action toward obtaining new work.

Stage 7. Resolution

We let go of our anger and false hopes. We feel in control of our lives again. The loss is still part of us but does not dictate our actions.

3.5 Dealing with stress/ Professional Counseling

Stress is the body's response to demands made upon it. Change is a primary cause of stress. Unemployment forces many changes upon our established routines, spending patterns, and aspirations. Not only is our source of income gone, but so is our daily structure, the social interaction of the job, and most importantly, our sense of purpose. And as time goes on, our self-esteem and sense of value are diminished. But keep in mind that although we may be feeling disorganized or not in control, there are many things we can do to relieve our anxiety and diffuse stress.

Communication with others is a key element in reducing stress. Isolation can block our progress to becoming re-employed. Continued social isolation may lead to depression. Any problem is easier to handle if we share it with someone who is concerned. Our problems can be put into perspective when we know people care about us. But they cannot provide help and understanding if they are unaware of our feelings and concerns.

It is not easy to ask for help when you are "down" but often this is the time when you need help most. If friends or relatives are unavailable to you, then you should seek out others who are, such as: previous co-workers, clergy, or neighbors. If serious problems arise, professional counseling should be considered. Your doctor or clergy at you church may be able to recommend counseling services in the area. The following services may be of help as well:

Assabet Valley Pastoral Counseling
8 Church Street
Westborough, MA
David Russo Director
(508) 366-4000


Exercise is an effective way to work off tension. Some form of daily exercise is essential to your physical and emotional well-being, whether you choose walking, hiking, aerobics, or running. Team or group sports like softball or bowling provide both exercise and social interaction. When confronted with budget considerations, be sure not to shortchange yourself where sensible, low-cost recreation is concerned. In the long run it is money well spent. Exercise and healthy competition combined with the attainment of personal physical goals can bolster your bruised self-esteem and enhance your sense of accomplishment. They will leave you renewed and refreshed to face your daily challenges.

Helping others is another means of raising your self-esteem. This can be done in many different ways. Some people use this period of unemployment to establish close relationships with family members. One study suggests that although increased stress is created by job loss, in cases where this stress is handled successfully, there may actually be improved communication between family members. Sometimes you are able to acquire a greater understanding of your family members' abilities and contributions. This may be a time when family activities can be planned and shared together -- whether it is a household project or a short trip.

Volunteer activities can be rewarding and worthwhile. Occasionally, volunteer work leads to paid employment, although this shouldn't be the primary reason for volunteering. You may be able to upgrade certain job related skills through volunteer experience. Before deciding on a volunteer activity you should consider many factors. The following questions will give you a starting point:

  • How much of your time is needed -- daily, weekly, monthly? Remember your greatest effort must be used to seek employment.
  • Are there related costs and can you afford them?
  • Can this activity be continued after you are re-employed? Is it a short- or long-term commitment (e.g., a season, a semester)?
  • Perhaps most importantly -- Will this volunteer activity give you personal satisfaction, enjoyment, new skills, or a sense of accomplishment?

If you cannot answer yes to the last question, then this type of volunteer experience may not be in your best interest.