Grieving your job loss: Here’s some advice from doctors about dealing with being laid off

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If you’ve just been laid off, reality bites. Here’s advice from two psychiatrists on how you can best cope.

Let’s be clear: you are in mourning

Grieving” the loss of a job typically comprises of four stages, says Dr. Ang Yong Guan, consultant psychiatrist at Ang Yong Guan Psychiatry.

1) "Why me?" (shock and disbelief)

2) "Negative reaction" (including sadness and anger)

3) "Disorganized" (where the individual is disoriented because of the sudden loss of routine)

4) "Normalization"

Self blame, guilt, denial: the negativity doesn’t stop

High fliers in banking can be especially affected by retrenchment because of the need to let go of previous associations, such as status and financial standing, says Dr. Daniel Koh, psychologist, Insights Mind Centre. Although bankers may have the means to stay out of work longer than those in many other professions, the firing will sting nevertheless.

“A sense of betrayal, injustice or confusion may arise. On the other hand, some may blame themselves for certain mistakes. All this could lead one to feel helpless, hopeless and worthless, which can cause depression, or other disorders to arise. This is especially for those with poorer coping skills, higher stress levels and more responsibilities, such as starting up a family,” says Dr. Koh.

Bankers have it bad

As white-collar professionals, retrenched bankers may find it difficult to articulate how they feel because doing this may not be common in their social circle. They may even attempt to “deny” reality and hide their job loss, says Dr. Koh.

He recounts the case of an experienced middle-aged banker who got retrenched during the last global financial crisis. The man became anxious and depressed because he had to provide for his family. To numb his pain, he eventually turned to alcohol, which led to even more problems. Dr. Koh adds, “He could not understand why this has happened to him, especially since he had worked long in the firm. He also has issues trusting people, which made it harder for him to re-enter working life.” With therapy however, the banker got back on his feet and found a job, albeit in a different profession.

Of course not everyone responds negatively to being laid off. Dr. Ang says, “Everyone reacts to a loss in different ways. While some may be motivated to get a better job, other personalities may be paralyzed by inaction, because they feel vulnerable and worthless.”

Here’s when you should worry

If sadness isn’t well handled, it could lead to depression. Symptoms to watch out for include mood swings, feeling teary or crying, negative thinking, lacking motivation, insomnia, a loss of appetite, social isolation, confusion, negative emotions, self-harm and being suicidal, says Dr. Koh. Aside from depression, an individual can also become fearful, exhibit extreme anxiety, anger or even engage in crime or substance abuse.

Ways of coping

Firstly, be aware that grief is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. After all, people don’t get retrenched every day, says Dr. Ang. There are four main aspects of coping, he says.

1) Social: Interact with positive-minded people who can motivate you. Bonding and confiding in others can also help serve as a welcome distraction.

2) Physical: Stay fit with exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

3) Mental: Keep up to date in the sectors that interest you. This could be banking, or you could plan a career change.

4) Spiritual: Continue to maintain your faith (if you have one), or appreciate art, music and literature, suggests Dr. Ang.

Ultimately, it’s how you deal with the lay off that matters. Dr. Ang says, “The situation may be stressful, but in the end it’s how the individual looks at the situation which will determine whether there’s a breakdown or a huge breakthrough.”

This article first appeared on our Singapore site but it applies here as well.

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