More than 40 million Americans — or one-quarter of U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the middle of March. These staggering figures have understandably made people across industries worried about losing their jobs, too.
Those concerns can take a toll on a person’s mental and physical health —especially coupled with worries about how long it could take to get another job in this economic climate.
“Fear is meant to motivate us in a specific moment when our life, health, or well-being is directly threatened,” Los Angeles therapist Amanda Stemen, owner of Fundamental Growth, told HuffPost. “The problem with fear about something that could happen in the future is that we hold onto that fear for far longer than our nervous systems are meant to hold onto it.”
Ongoing fears about losing your job can worsen existing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Physically, that stress can lead to headaches, appetite changes, sleep problems, reduced immune function and digestive issues, Stemen said.
While some people can thrive at work under extreme pressure, it hinders others’ job performance at a time when they really want to excel.
“Since chronic stress impacts our cognitive abilities, people who experience layoff fears may struggle to concentrate, complete tasks to the best of their ability and in a timely manner — or at all — and come up with creative and innovative solutions,” Stemen said.
Such fears may also make it more challenging to manage your moods, which can strain relationships with your colleagues.
“People might struggle to motivate themselves and be more likely to lash out at co-workers or struggle to work with others in general,” Stemen said.
So how can you cope when you’re constantly worried about getting laid off? We asked experts to share their advice.
Acknowledge your fear.
Between everything you’re reading in the news and what you’re hearing from people in your life who are out of work, it’s only natural for fears about losing your job to pop up. Instead of burying these distressing emotions, take time to acknowledge them.
“It makes perfect sense that we don’t want to slow down and feel our feelings,” said Katharine Agostino, owner of Silicon Valley Executive Coaching . “Many of us learned to just run faster and harder, and that is how we were successful, so we don’t want to stop and feel the fear. We are worried it will slow us down. So we stuff the fear and keep going.”
You can write down your feelings in a journal, talk to a trusted friend or co-worker or open up to a therapist (there are affordable resources available if you’re on a tight budget). It may be comforting to find out you’re not alone in feeling this way.
“Remember that so many people are in this exact same storm,” Stemen said.
Ask your boss what you can do right now.
Talk to your manager about how you can be an even better asset to the company during this time. This will help you focus on aspects of the situation that you can control rather than those you can’t.
Agostino offered these examples of things you could ask: “What three deliverables would you like to see from me by the end of the month?”; What’s the one thing I could do to increase my output this week?” and “What would have you saying that the team can’t function without me?”
“I make my perfect cup of coffee and light my favorite candle and then set a timer. In 45 minutes, my hard thing must be done. I make the call or send the email or write the article.”
Taking action this way is empowering and an “antidote to the swirl of fear,” Agostino said.
“There is extreme uncertainty in our world now, but focusing on the things that you can affect — and getting into action around the things that you’re good at — is energizing,” she added.
Try practicing radical acceptance.
Radical acceptance is a skill that requires recognizing life events or circumstances that are beyond your control just for what they are, instead of fighting against them.
For instance, you cannot control the tremendous financial hit your company has taken as a result of the pandemic, which has triggered your fears of losing your job. Examples of fighting reality in this case might be thoughts like: “Why is this happening at my company?” or “They can’t do this to me.”
“While radical acceptance doesn’t necessarily solve the potential issue, it does bring people back to the present moment, which is a helpful place to be if the worst-case scenario does happen,” Stemen said. “It puts us in a place to be more solution-oriented rather than fear-oriented.”
Accomplish one task you’ve been avoiding every day.
Agostino has challenged herself to do something each day that moves her business, team or family forward. That sense of accomplishment can create positive momentum at work and at home.
“I try to gamify it a bit,” she said. “I make my perfect cup of coffee and light my favorite candle and then set a timer. In 45 minutes, my hard thing must be done. I make the call or send the email or write the article.”
Figure out a couple of things that will help you land on your feet if you do lose your job. Then do them.
Be proactive now “so you are positioned as well as possible for an uncertain future,” workplace expert Lindsey Pollak wrote in a blog post. That might mean updating your résumé and LinkedIn profile, taking an online course to expand your skillset, searching for online job postings that excite you, or reaching out to a professional mentor.
“Difficult times are when successful and resilient people create and innovate,” Stemen said. “There are always opportunities, so if you keep your mind on that rather than the fear of losing your job, you’re more likely to recognize those opportunities when they present themselves and will be ready to jump on them.”
Take care of yourself.
The pressure to keep your job may have you burning the candle at both ends: working through lunch and on nights and weekends while also trying to homeschool your kids, pay the bills and keep the kitchen clean. But if you keep going at this pace, you’re going to burn out.
Carve out time — even just 15 or 20 minutes a day — for self-care. Spend some time outside, bake cookies, listen to a podcast, meditate, cuddle with a pet, read a few pages in a book, go to bed earlier, do a home workout — anything that will make you feel more grounded.
“Do those things that get you out of your head and keep you in the best physical, mental and emotional shape you possibly can be,” Stemen said. “If you were to get laid off, you’d need to be prepared to figure out a solution to that problem. And we’re more easily able to do that when we’re taking care of ourselves.”