Man on a mobile phone sitting at a laptop computer
Man on a mobile phone sitting at a laptop computer

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.

It’s important to recognise that businesses are 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 wellbeing, relationships and families, as well as how they see their future. These feelings of distress can be heightened during periods of uncertainty, such as what we are seeing with the COVID-19 outbreak.

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 coronavirus outbreak. 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 around the economy and the spread of the virus.

  • 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

If you need assistance please visit the dedicated Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service. Trained mental health professionals are available to talk to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, via phone, webchat and email.

For immediate support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000.

The Australian Government is providing financial assistance to individuals who have lost their jobs to support themselves and their families.

If you are experiencing financial hardship, the National Debt Helpline offers free financial counselling.

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