One of the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in unemployment. A lot of industries, particularly hospitality, retail and tourism have been severely affected by the social distancing norms, leading to loss of jobs and difficult career decisions.
Losing your job can be hard, particularly in a time like this. Our work life is often an important part of our identity. Furthermore, most of us find sudden, unplanned changes unsettling and seek to create stability and safety for ourselves and those we love. So, losing employment in a time where safety and hope feel constantly under threat can bring with it a horde of other worries. Looking after your mental health at such a time is essential. Here are some ways you can look after yourself and deal with the loss of a job.
Show yourself some kindness
It is easy to blame yourself at a time like this. However, one should try and remember that the current events have nothing to do with one's performance or actions. While our work life is important, it does not define us. Look towards your friends and family to remind you of who you are outside of work. Reinvest in hobbies and interests that have been forgotten in the day to day rush and pressure of work. Take time to reflect on your assets, skills and achievements to prepare yourself for future opportunities.
A sudden loss of employment can also be devastating, so allow yourself time to grieve. It is normal to feel angry, sad and frustrated. Many of us have heard of the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, acceptance. Learning to practice acceptance of situations and people that are not in our control will help you to process the experience and enable you to be ready to move forward when a new opportunity presents itself. In the meantime, focus on the things that we can control like our daily activities and how we are relating to those around us.
Reaching out and connecting with our social support systems can be very helpful. It is a boring and uninspired recommendation but important all the same. Staying isolated and lonely have been repeatedly shown to increase feelings of anxiety, frustration and depression. Speaking with people usually provides comfort and some entertainment or distraction to ease our mind. It can also be a good chance to check up on people who might be facing some difficulty in these times. Altruistic behaviours are regularly shown to improve mental health and, most importantly, self-worth and community markers of health. Even if we don't believe we have anyone to connect to, we can find opportunities in the form of online forums or groups with people going through a similar experience.
Establish a routine
Most of us have a daily routine that is largely structured around our work schedule. Losing your job can mean the loss of that routine too. Therefore, it can be very helpful to set up a new routine. This can be done by way of having basic times setup for common daily activities (e.g., waking up, exercise, showering, hobbies, meal times, etc.) It can also be helpful to include at least one productive activity (e.g., cleaning, sorting, building, maintaining etc.) in our day, as well as one activity that will make us happy (i.e., something enjoyable, exciting, pleasurable, relaxing, etc.) Doing so will give us a sense of productivity as well as happiness.
Another common recommendation but, again, so important. Exercise has numerous powerful and reliable benefits. Apart from keeping us physically fit, it is also an extremely effective treatment for low mood and anxiety. Regular exercise can also be a great way to bring structure our day and can facilitate many hobbies or social connection. The best way to get started is to choose something that is fun to do and aim small (e.g., 5 minutes each day). It might sound silly to aim for 5 minutes, but you can always do more if you want to. The most important thing is to get started, the rest will follow.
Now, many people often scoff at the idea of exercise being "fun" but I encourage you to think outside the box! Ever been axe throwing? Kite flying? Horse riding? These things count. Move beyond things like the gym, yoga and boot camps if you're not into exercise and you'll likely find something fun and interesting to do.
Recognise the silver lining
Being unemployed sucks. A pandemic doesn't make it any easier. This isn’t an ideal situation for any of us and many of us have been left with a lot of empty time on our hands. The silver lining? Let's use this time for something meaningful to us. It can be used in very creative and productive ways as many Tik Tok users will attest.
What is something that you've wanted to try or learn? Are any household projects outstanding? Want to learn a new language? Picking up a new hobby, doing an online course, spending more time with friends, family or for yourself are some things that are possible now. This time can also be used to learn a new skill to improve future job opportunities with many universities and TAFEs offering discounted or free programs.
It is okay to also just indulge in self-care activities and look after yourself. Remind yourself that this situation isn’t permanent so indulging for a couple of months will not ruin you and your career. Life may change going forward but we can adapt and survive. It is just a matter of time until things get better, or, we learn to adapt. Until then, we should try and fill our days with meaningful tasks and activities.
Government and social aid
Some of us may also be facing a financial crisis. The government is providing financial assistance in many forms for people in need. It might be helpful to contact Centrelink or your local community centre to ascertain what supports are available for you. Remember your friends and family, too. People generally want to help others. Even if they can't assist with money, most are happy to help with time, food or companionship. Remember that people usually feel good helping others, you are extremely unlikely to burden them by asking for help.
It is a good idea to apply for other jobs, however, it would be preferable to avoid letting that take up most of your time and energy. Rather than that, stay positive, invest your time wisely and if you feel like you are unable to cope and need some extra help, you can seek help from one of our psychologists.