Looking after yourself through unemployment

This article is adapted from a piece previously published on Beyond Blue’s Heads Up website

Losing your job and having your income reduced can cause significant emotional distress. If you’ve lost your job due to COVID-19, it’s important to take care of your mental health. Here, we look at ways to support wellbeing during this tricky time.

Even as we settle into COVID normal, it’s important to recognise that businesses are still closing or running at significantly decreased output due to circumstances beyond their control. We recognise that it is heartbreaking for business owners who have to stand down staff, and equally distressing for employees who suddenly find themselves without employment.

It can take a serious toll on many aspects of people’s lives – their health and mental wellbeing, relationships and families, as well as how they see their future. These feelings of distress can be heightened during periods of uncertainty – and undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant upheaval.

Losing your job or financial security may trigger feelings akin to grief including:

  • disbelief

  • shock and a feeling of numbness

  • a sense of loss connected to your job and finances

  • uncertainty about the future

  • confusion about why this is happening

  • anger.

In these circumstances, you may experience common reactions that can manifest themselves physically and mentally, such as:

  • problems getting to sleep or staying asleep

  • tiredness and fatigue

  • a loss of appetite

  • feeling overwhelmed, anxious or fearful

  • mood swings or over-reacting to small things

  • muscle tension or pain

  • frustration

  • feeling angry, irritable or intolerant.

Some people will experience reactions that may be a sign that they should seek support from their GP or a mental health professional. Signs to look out for include:

  • severe emotional reactions that persist beyond a usual period of adjustment (usually two or more weeks)

  • an inability to function and carry out day-to-day tasks

  • using alcohol or other substances to ‘self-medicate’ or cope

  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Tips to care for your mental health if you lose your job

If you have lost your job, you are likely to feel more in control and less stressed if you take steps to help improve your situation.

There are many helpful things you can do to help you cope.

  • Remind yourself that it’s OK to feel unsure about the future.

  • Be patient with yourself. Recovery from any significant setback takes time.

  • Get support. Identify family members you can talk to who will help you remain positive.

  • Understand that you’re not the only one who has lost their job because of the extraordinary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Share your story with trusted colleagues.

  • You may find it useful to write down your concerns and worries and work through them methodically.

  • Choose your news. As best possible, avoid getting swept up in negativity.

  • Draw on your strengths. Remind yourself of a tough time that you’ve managed to overcome in the past.

  • Stay healthy. Try to maintain a balanced diet and exercise regularly.

  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs.

  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition that may be aggravated by stress, talk to your GP.

Beyond Blue’s Taking care of yourself after losing your job booklet contains more information on practical tips for looking after your mental health. This booklet provides general information and advice that may not be entirely suitable to individuals or employers affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Accessing support

To find out more about how you can support your financial wellbeing go here.

For practical financial tools, advice and resources visit: moneysmart.gov.au.

To learn more about free financial counselling go to Financial Counselling Australia. Financial counsellors give free, independent, and non-judgemental advice to help people get back in control of their finances.

If you, or someone close to you, are experiencing financial hardship, the National Debt Helpline offers free financial counselling and does not lend money or advise people how to invest.

Additional resources

Our simple checklist aims to measure whether you may have been affected by depression and anxiety during the past four weeks.

HeadGear, is an easy-to-use smartphone app designed by Black Dog Institute to build resilience and wellbeing. 

Smiling Mind offer a range of Mindfulness at Work resources designed to help employees boost their mental wellbeing in the workplace.

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