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Fearing a Layoff: Coping with the Stress

Losing a job is incredibly stressful, and living under the threat of losing a job is almost as bad.

Even if you still have your job, reading the papers and picking up word about upcoming layoffs at the firm where you work has an adverse effect. As far as our brain is concerned, being under threat causes us to react and feel as if the threat has already materialized.

Nevertheless, some people who lose their job will cope better than others. More interestingly, some people who actually lose their job will do better that those who kept their job but have been living with the constant fear of losing it.

When you can’t change the reality of the situation, it’s all about coping. There are a few "secrets" to coping successfully.

First is the truism: "Focus on what you can control, accept what you can’t control.”

Typically, our reaction to loss or stress will follow a pattern nicknamed "SARA":

  • Shock: "Oh no, how could this happen to me?"
  • Anger: "Why me? I delivered far better numbers than anyone else in the team last year."
  • Resistance: "Maybe I can do something to avert this – can I sue for unlawful dismissal? How can I get back at my boss?"
  • Acceptance: Acknowledging reality and planning a way forward logically.

In the acceptance phase, you are looking at reality in the eye, and now you can plan the way out of the hole. Break the situation down: instead of thinking "total catastrophe," think of it in smaller and more manageable chunks. Financial worries can be translated into numbers: monthly outings, a severance package, savings. Worries about our long-term unemployability can be turned into a six-month plan of looking for a new job.

Plan the way forward. Focus on what you can control.

We all go through the phases of this cycle at our own individual pace. There is no guidebook for moving through more quickly. However, identifying when you are stuck in a phase may help you move through it. It’s natural, even healthy, to vent and to experience anger, shock and resistance, but if you find ourselves obsessing about the same issue, it can be a sign to take a step back and to try to look at things from a bit more of a distance.

Eyal Pavell, Ph.D., is a psychologist and executive coach. He can be contacted at, or at

AUTHOREyal Pavell Insider Comment

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