Job Loss and Grief
What is grief, and why is it important to know about it after a job loss?
Grief is the physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral response to the actual or threatened loss of a person or thing to which we are emotionally attached. Individuals can grieve after actually losing a job, or when there is a credible perception of potential job loss. We grieve a job loss because work plays such an important role in most of our lives. For many people, work is a major part of their personal identity. It provides a sense of meaning, purpose, pleasure and accomplishment, and it contributes significantly to their self-esteem. For others, who view work as “just a job,” it is the loss of the financial, familial and/or social benefits that work provides that is more significant.
What does grief feel like?
Grief is an intensely unpleasant experience that impacts our physical, mental, emotional and behavioral well being. In fact, grief can be so distressing that most people worry that they are “falling apart” or “losing it.” It can be comforting to know the components of a normal grief reaction.
Normal Grief Reactions
Does everyone respond to grief in the same way?
No. Each individual experiences grief in a unique way. The particular set of normal grief reactions that an individual experiences is influenced by many factors, including the importance of loss, an individual’s loss history, an individual’s personality and coping style, gender, culture and social support.
Although each individual’s grief is unique, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has identified some common reactions that most people experience in reaction to loss. She observed that when confronting a loss, most people go through these common stages.
|Denial||Our initial reaction to a significant loss is usually one of numbness and shock. Like physical shock, this reflexive emotional reaction protects us from being overwhelmed by pain.|
|Anger||When the reality of an important loss sinks in, it is logical to ask “Why me?” When this occurs, denial is frequently replaced by anger, rage, a sense of injustice, envy and resentment.|
|Bargaining||When a loss starts to feel more real, we try to negotiate the situation back to the way it was before, or we try to negotiate a quick end to the situation.|
|Depression||When we realize that a loss is real and not going to change, we may sink into a deep sorrow.|
|Acceptance||This occurs when we recognize that a loss is a fact of life, and we gradually let go of the struggle against the tide of emotion.|
Movement through the stages is not always linear; specifically, when confronted with a significant loss, most people cycle through the stages more than once, and sometimes in different orders.
Grief Survival Tips
When you experience a loss, there is no way to avoid grieving. Certain responses help people grieve. The following is a list of tips and suggestions that grieving people have found helpful. Review the list and try to incorporate a few tips that you think might be helpful for you.
- It won’t help to ignore what you are experiencing. It can help to acknowledge that losing your job is a significant loss.
- Express your feelings. Talking is one way to express yourself, but you can also journal or use artistic expression or exercise.
- Ask for support and help from family, friends, and your community.
- Find others who understand what you are going through. Not only will they provide emotional support, but also they can provide a networking opportunity within the unemployed community.
- Get back to as many everyday routines as you can. Familiar habits can be very comforting.
- Work on the elements of your life that are separate from your job. This helps remind people that their lives consist of many more things, like relationships and other interests. Take this time to cultivate those aspects of your life.
- Simplify life. Grieving can be emotionally and physically draining. Try to cut back on things that are not absolutely necessary.
- Take good care of yourself. Eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and make time for relaxation, prayer or meditation.
- Find time to do something that feels good. Pleasurable activity can provide a sense of balance and renewal.
- Reflect on other significant losses that you have faced. Think about how the things you did to cope with those losses can help you now.