How to Manage Emotions After Being Laid Off

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Last Updated on February 14, 2023 by the thought method co.

It’s February 2023, and the layoffs that started at the end of 2022 are ramping up. Layoffs are an emotional and difficult process for everyone involved. And if you were laid off you are likely having a lot of thoughts and emotions.

How you manage those thoughts and emotions is imperative. Because when you manage what you think and how you feel, you create clarity. And from that clarity comes a healthy perspective that will help you navigate being laid off in the most productive way.

Here we will discuss common thoughts and emotions that come up after a layoff. And you will learn how to navigate those thoughts and emotions with techniques that will help you in every area of your life.

Sit back, get comfy, and let’s have ourselves a little chat. First, let’s talk about why companies do layoffs.

Why Companies Do Layoffs

Companies do layoffs for several reasons. Layoffs may be due to financial constraints, a shift in business strategy, to make the company more efficient or to make the company more competitive in the marketplace.

Whatever the case, if you were laid off, it means the decision was based on factors on their end. And it is important to acknowledge this, because it is something you can easily lose sight of.

In an effort to control, your mind might try to take the layoff personally. This will look like blaming yourself and searching for things you did wrong. For example: “If I just did xyz different maybe I would not have been included in the layoff.”

While having your best interest in mind, your mind is trying to find control so you can work to avoid the painful situation in the future. If you could just figure out what you did to cause your layoff, you could make sure to never do it again. But it’s not you.

So allow the negative thoughts to come, acknowledge them, and then remind yourself that layoffs are because of financial constraints or a shift in business strategy. They are out of your control and taking on blame that is not yours is only going to make the situation worse.

  • Mindset Technique at work: What you just learned, my friend, is: depersonalization, how to not identify with anxious thoughts and how not to take on responsibility that is not yours.
  • Words Matter: Another way to depersonalize the situation is by asking: “why did this happen?” instead of “why did this happen to me?” While you are in this situation, and it is happening, it is also happening to others, and it’s not personal.

Grounding Yourself

In addition to depersonalizing, you need to ground yourself. Grounding is the practice of connecting with the earth and your physical environment to reduce stress and anxiety. By connecting with your environment, you can absorb its energy, which can help you feel more relaxed and centered.

Ground by reminding yourself that you are safe. You might wonder why you would need to remind yourself you are safe. After all, you are likely home. How are you unsafe? It is the same reason people feel anxious before public speaking. Our brain is here to protect us and when we get anxious, we send our brain similar signals to that of being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. Our brain doesn’t know the difference.

And our brain takes the anxious signals we are giving it and goes into protection mode. This magnifies emotions and can make us feel out of sorts. So remind yourself, “I am safe.” And ground yourself by remembering you are the same person you were before you were laid off.

  • Mindset Technique at work: What you just learned, my friend, is: grounding. You can also ground yourself by taking a walk, laying in the grass and being in nature.
  • Words Matter: Reminding yourself “I am safe” will help you ground in any situation where you are feeling anxious.

Separating Yourself

Some companies want employees to be tied to and identify themselves by their job. They sometimes go to the extent of giving their employees titles. Like at Nordstrom, where the employees are referred to as Nordies. But this close identity with a job or position does not breed fulfillment or emotional maturity. Because you are not your job.

You are a holistic person—who is also good at the skills needed for your job. This does not mean you are not as dedicated to a job. It means you are well balanced, which will actually make you a better employee. So remind yourself that you are not your job and that it is not a bad thing.

If you closely identified with your position, then a layoff will be more emotionally impactful. This is a great opportunity to work on how you identify yourself and relate to the world. And doing this work now will help you in every area of your life, including your job performance.

You can do this by picking up hobbies and building a strong internal sense of self. Focusing on hobbies and things outside of work keeps you well rounded. Hobbies will also help you unwind. And when your brain is relaxed you are better able to solve complex issues.

A strong sense of self includes understanding your strengths and weaknesses. If you are awesome at xyz skill, you take that skill with you to your next job and in other areas of your life.

  • Mindset Technique at work: What you just learned, my friend, is: boundaries. Any relationship ending hurts. It is particularly painful when you give too much of yourself in the relationship. Boundaries are key to maintaining identity and not losing yourself in relationships.
  • Words Matter: Remind yourself that companies calling their employees “family” or wanting their employees to define themselves by their jobs is a sign that those companies are not ready for emotionally mature employees.

Labeling Feelings

Depersonalization and grounding create a safe space to acknowledge and feel emotions while reducing their intensity. Feeling your feelings in any situation is important because it will help you process, become more self-aware, and better understand your place in the world. It will help you manage stress and be more resilient in difficult situations like a layoff.

And when you allow yourself to feel your feelings without judgement, you reduce the intensity of the feelings and are better able to manage them.

During a layoff, there are multiple people involved and emotions to consider. Layoffs are tough on people in HR, your colleagues might be sad for you, your boss might feel hurt or upset. But your primary focus is your feelings.

It is possible to empathize with HR and your boss, while also focusing solely on your emotions. You are the star of the show. You need to make sure the star is OK. So shamelessly focus on you and how you feel and work through your feelings. Once you do that, you can reach out to others—if you have the space.

An important first step in feeling your feelings is labeling them.

Feelings after a layoff may be:

  • Worry – layoffs and uncertainty come hand in hand and uncertainties best friend is worriment
  • Uncertainty – a layoff can bring about a lot of changes, both financially and emotionally
  • Shock – having a job one minute and not the next is a shock to the system
  • Sadness – you are saying goodbye to colleagues and a familiar work environment
  • Resistance – you might want to resist that it is happening and believe that it’s a mistake
  • Relief – you might feel relieved you are no longer in anxious anticipation
  • Irritability – any change or surprise can bring irritability
  • Hope – in every difficult situation there is always a semblance of hope
  • Grief – just like with any loss, losing a job and your current routine may bring feelings of grief.
  • Excitement – if you felt stagnant in your job, you might be excited for a new opportunity.
  • Embarrassment – you might feel like you are losing a point of pride
  • Failure – you may feel you did something wrong
  • Doubt – if you take the layoff personally, you might doubt your abilities and skills.
  • Defeat – You might wonder how the next job will come and if the effort is worth it
  • Anger – if you dedicated a lot of your time and energy to a job you may feel resentment.*

*Anger is typically a secondary emotion to the primary emotion of sadness. When we feel vulnerable, we will mask the vulnerability with anger. This is fear response and an attempt to protect ourselves.

Feel With Curiosity

In a world where feelings are weaponized and people incorrectly think emotions are weakness, it’s scary to feel. But you need to feel your emotions. Because if you ignore them, they will still be there, becoming more intense.

By acknowledging emotions now, you make life easier. And you put yourself in the best position to navigate a layoff. Feel your feelings by sitting with them and acknowledging them with curiosity.

This looks like going for a walk or getting a cup of coffee and literally sitting and reflecting on your emotions. Ask yourself, “really, how am I feeling?” And allow the feelings to come into your consciousness without judgement.

You are allowed to think, “I am acknowledging a mixture of anger and relief, this is interesting.” And you are allowed to think, “this is a lot, this is uncomfortable.”

But always remember: feelings are temporary.

Because when you sit with your emotions, it gets easier to acknowledge them, and they will eventually pass. Too often people who were never taught how to sit with their emotions resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking. But unhealthy coping mechanisms are going to get you off your game. And after a layoff, you need to be on your game as much as possible.

So be the brave little toaster that I know you are and sit with the feelings.

Lastly, remember, emotions can trick us. So if you are feeling doubt about your skills and abilities, look for real world evidence that will contradict that. The real world evidence in this case is that the company saw you as a good fit to hire you (and likely after at least 3 interviews). You had what it took. It was just a bad situation.

  • Mindset Technique at work: What you just learned, my friend, is: the first part of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) called “Self-Awareness.” Not only helpful during a layoff, EQ will help you in every area of your life and those with high EQ typically make 29k more than their lower EQ counterparts.
  • Words Matter: Remind yourself that you are not your feelings, you are the acknowledgment of them. To reduce the intensity of the feeling, say: “I am acknowledging feelings of [insert feeling]” instead of “I am [insert feeling].”

The Next Step Is Emotional Management

Once you identify your feelings, it is time to decide what to do with the feelings. If you ever heard someone say their feelings got the best of them, they weren’t managing their emotions well. It happens. But you need to work on managing your emotions so you will be better directed towards your goals.

The important thing here is to make sure you are in control and your emotions are not controlling you. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is OK to take a break and not respond to non-essential emails or phone calls.

You can choose to respond to the feelings by taking a walk or watching a TV show you enjoy. Or you could do what Abe Lincoln did and write a letter you do not intend to send. Remember, feelings aren’t forever. But mismanagement of feelings can hurt us and keep us from our goals.

So ask yourself, “What do I want? “What is my goal?”

And then see how you can use the feelings to motivate you towards that goal. You can redirect feelings like anger and shock into willpower to find a new job. Feelings of doubt or uncertainty can lead you to working on building confidence and focusing on what you can control.

Before we move on, let’s talk about one more feeling…

Cringe. If you did not handle the layoff favorably, if you were curt with HR or your boss, if you cried or whatever else, you might feel some cringe.

Layoffs are difficult. It is understandable, emotions were high. And it is important to give yourself grace while also working to reduce the strong feeling around the emotion. A way to reduce the intensity of emotions is by correcting any wrong.

So if you were rude or said something you regret you can send a quick note via LinkedIn or email and say “Dear Person, I apologize if I was curt or xyz in our meeting. My emotions got the best of me. I understand it was not personal, and you were managing this situation the best you could.”

If there is nothing for you to correct, then it is important to have self-forgiveness and grace. So if you cried or showed a strong emotion, remind yourself that you did the best you could in a tough situation.

Emotional tears release stress hormones, so crying in the situation may have helped you relieve some tension but we need to have boundaries with our vulnerability.

  • Mindset Technique at work: What you just learned, my friend, is: the second part of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) called “Emotional Regulation.” Not only helpful during a layoff, emotional regulation will help you all throughout your life in every area of your life.
  • Words Matter: Remind yourself that you and no one else are in full control of your emotions. If you feel compelled to make a big decision, give it a day or two. What’s the rush?

Bringing It Together

Layoffs are tough. Find peace in knowing you will overcome this situation just like you have other difficult situations. You will find another job just like you found your last one. And if you use the skills you learned here, you’ll be better equipped for your new job and for every area of your life.

If you have questions about EQ, building EQ or how to handle difficult emotions, let me know in the comments.

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