Just last week, Wal-Mart announced that they’re closing 269 stores, 154 of them in the US, and Macy’s is closing 40 stores1.

While the unemployment rate in America continues to go down, many people are still out of work.

The problem with the way the unemployment rate is calculated, is that it only looks at people who have been actively looking for work in the last four weeks.

Anyone that, for whatever reason, has stopped looking for work isn’t counted in those official numbers, making the official unemployment rate a pretty misleading statistic.

A much smarter number to look at is the employment-population ratio, which includes people that have stopped looking for work.

If you notice, this number is going down significantly, because people keep leaving the labor force.

There are nearly 100 million people out of the labor force. This is an alarming statistic.

There was a study done not long ago that looked at the labor force of eight major developed countries, including Sweden, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

All of these countries are facing similar problems.

Recently, there has been some heartbreaking news coming out of Alberta. Because of the steep drop in oil prices over the last year, Alberta has been suffering heavily.

It first started with massive vacancy rates for their commercial real estate market, signaling that businesses just couldn’t survive.

But now, in a sad turn of events, news has come out that the suicide rate has increased drastically in Alberta in the wake of mounting job losses.

So I wanted to look into the psychology behind job loss – what happens when you first lose your job, what happens when you’ve been out of work for a while, and what you can do to recover from a lost job.

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What Happens When You First Lose Your Job

Losing your job hurts.

There’s no simple way about it. Getting laid off is one of the hardest things you’ll ever go through.

There will be a roller coaster of emotions, and saying “don’t beat yourself up” or “everything will be okay” is much easier said than done.

It’s important to embrace those emotions and not try to brush anything off. If you want to cry, go for it. If you feel like writing in a journal might help, do it.

The emotions surrounding job loss are often similar to the emotions surrounding any kind of major loss. There are different models that map out the stages of grief, one of the most famous ones being Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief.

  1. Denial – This is the most shocking part of the job loss. You literally can’t understand how this happened.
  2. Anger – There’s two parts to this – internal anger and external anger. You’ll be mad at yourself for what you probably could have done better, and you’ll be mad at your boss for firing such an amazing employee.
  3. Bargaining – An example of bargaining is when during a breakup you ask if you can still be friends. In the context of a job loss, you might start to bargain with yourself, like if I can just get my master’s degree, then maybe I’ll be able to get the job again.
  4. Depression – This is the scariest stage, and one you want to stay in for as little as possible. This is where you start to reflect on all the things you might have done wrong at the job. The best piece of advice I could give for this stage is to think about how you could improve in the future based on what you’re discovering.
  5. Acceptance – This is when you return back to your baseline, or hopefully an even higher baseline. This is the stage where you’ve accepted it and are ready to move on.

One interesting thing to note is that research on grief shows that the healthier your mindset is before losing a loved one, the faster you are likely to move through the grieving process. It would make sense that the same would be true for other forms of grieving (like losing a job).

Using things like exercise, meditation, and a gratitude journal will become very important in staying positive in this tough time.

What Happens When You’re Out Of Work For Long

This is where things start to get bad.

It’s very common for someone who has been out of work for six months or longer to experience:

  • Depression
  • Bad eating habits
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Negative thoughts
  • Lack of sleep

Research shows that being unemployed doubles a person’s chance of a major depressive episode and that unemployment is also highly associated with domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and even suicide.

Also, there are often struggles in a relationship, mostly due to financial concerns.

Even looking for a new job can be stressful. Research has found that unemployed workers who actively engage in job-search activities are more likely to have worse mental health, according to a 2005 study.

What To Do About All Of This

Again, much of this is easier said than done, but it’s important to try and make the best of things and use this time to better yourself.

Your new job should be finding a job. Networking with people, updating your resume, and adding new skills are all good ways to get back in the game.

Here are some ideas to remember when trying to cope with job loss.

  1. Exercise

    It’s very common to let yourself go during this rough time. Exercise will help keep you in shape physically and mentally.

    Take time out of your day to get stronger and more powerful for when you find a new job.

  2. Learn New Skills

    You can use this time to beef up your resume by learning new skills. There are many websites that can help you learn new skills, here are a few.

  3. Network

    Use this time to meet new people that could be beneficial for your career. Use websites like Meetup to discover networking events in your community.

    You should try to go to as many of these as possible, not to look for jobs, but strictly to meet people and connect.

  4. Target Specific Companies

    Another idea you can use is to take this time to target specific companies you know you want to work for, and discover everything you can about them.

    What type of persona do they typically hire? How can you connect with the founder or another key employee?

    Take advantage of this free time to do that research.

  5. Stay Positive

    Again, you’ll want to try and do everything you can to stay positive.

    Two things I’d recommend are:

    • Keeping a gratitude journal
    • Using an app like Headspace for meditation
  6. Connect With Family And Friends

    Your family and friends are there to support you.

    Take the time to connect with them and spend time with them. Yes, losing your job sucks, but you can embrace the upside of it and realize that you have more time to be with your loved ones.

Free Bonus: Discover the 11 signs to watch out for that you might lose your job soon.

Do You Know Anyone That’s Suffered From Job Loss?

I’d be curious to hear your stories in the comments below!

Read More: The Illusion of Job Security.