Helping Clients Incorporate Self-Care During Job Loss
By Vonya Hodrick and Elyse Pipitone
The Personal Impact of Job Loss
As recession fears mount and the fallout from COVID and supply chain issues continue, businesses are looking for ways to show a profit, often through staffing cuts. For example, in August 2022 alone, more than 60 companies in various industries announced layoffs, including Apple, Walmart, and Ford (GlobalData.com, 2022). This trend does not appear to be slowing.
For clients whose positions are eliminated due to layoffs or other management decisions, the personal impact of job loss can reach far beyond the obvious financial and family impacts. A job can provide structure, purpose, and meaning to one’s life, influencing how individuals see themselves and how others view them (Fuller, 2020). After a layoff, clients may struggle with the losses of their daily routine, professional relationships, and social outlets, leading to increased isolation. As a result, they are at higher risk of binge drinking, depression, anxiety, and suicide (Leahy, 2022).
How Job Loss Affects the Brain
When the brain is under stress, essential functions like concentration, memory, and impulse control are compromised (Cherry, 2021). Career practitioners can help clients address the emotional fallout of job loss, so they are better able to focus on their job search, present themselves well in interviews, and make the right decisions for their career.
Practitioners should respect the client’s need to grieve, be angry, or feel despondent, all which are natural, even healthy, responses. Tools such as the Job Loss Reaction Cycle (Deems, 2020) can help clients understand the natural, emotional reactions to job loss. The cycle includes several phases, including shock, denial, and self-doubt. Clients may repeat several phases before reaching the phase of acceptance and affirmation.
Ways Practitioners Can Provide Support
In addition to offering empathy and encouragement, practitioners can suggest resources that clients can use to share their experiences with others and gain inspiration. These may include local unemployment support groups and career centers, professional networking organizations, alumni groups, and social media message boards. Local departments of employment and training and unemployment support forums in LinkedIn Groups may be good places to start. If the client’s former employer offers outplacement services, this can be a valuable resource.
Practitioners can also encourage the client to develop a self-care plan to help manage stress, increase energy, and reduce illness following a job loss. Self-care is a multifaceted process of engaging in various aspects of health that promote and enhance well-being (Dorociak et al., 2017).
An effective self-care plan should be tailored to the client’s needs and created with the client to ensure they are not overwhelmed or burned out. Practitioners can assess which areas need more attention and self-care, understanding that those needs will shift over time.
Tips for Building and Managing a Self-care Plan
Although increasing physical exercise may be one aspect of self-care, the process involves taking care of one’s total well-being. Practitioners can help the client strengthen the self-care plan by assessing their emotional, spiritual, physical, social, and mental health. Ask the client the following questions to help guide the creation of a self-care plan:
Emotional health (involves coping skills, awareness, and expression of emotions)
- Do you include activities into your life that help you feel rejuvenated?
- Do you have healthy ways to process your emotions?
- Are you engaging in spiritual practices that are fulfilling?
- What questions do you ask yourself about your life path and purpose?
- How much exercise do you get in a week?
- Are you getting adequate sleep?
- Does your diet make you feel recharged?
- What are you doing to nurture your relationships with friends and family?
- Do you spend enough face-to-face time with your friends and family?
Mental health (involves processing, judgement, reasoning)
- Are you making enough time for activities that mentally stimulate you?
- Are you participating in initiative-taking activities that maintain your mental health?
Practitioners can also suggest the following steps for clients to reduce stress and prioritize their well-being:
- Consider life aspects that trigger stress and the tools to combat those stressors. List various activities that can reduce and manage stress.
Engage in physical activities, hobbies, spirituality, mindfulness, and socializing with peers.
- Choose activities that focus on caring for others, or group interactions in clubs and sports. The University at Buffalo School of Social Work offers a variety of self-care activities, including a starter kit and self-care assessment
Plan for challenges
- If it is noticed that some aspects of the client’s life are being neglected, identify small steps to make improvements.
- Once small steps are identified, set short-term goals that are attainable to increase motivation.
- Make self-care a priority. Have the client take particular note of anything they would like to include more of in their life.
- The use of a calendar or task list system can serve as a foundation or a self-care planner. Suggest that the client list activities that will be helpful and schedule them in a calendar on specific days and times.
The Role of Therapy in Job Loss
Sometimes clients experiencing job loss need help beyond support groups, self-care plans, and the guidance of a career practitioner. Pappas (2020) indicates that “research suggests that a mental-health-informed approach is not just helpful, it’s required: Job search programs that don’t involve nurturing people’s motivational and cognitive resources simply aren’t as effective as those that do” (p. 54). When a client’s daily functioning and health are impacted - such as extended periods of insomnia, changes in appetite, or increased depression or anxiety - it may be time for them to contact a mental health professional.
Losing a job can feel devastating, impacting the client’s overall health. Practitioners can help by offering support, linking clients to local community resources, and assisting with self-care planning. While these resources may be useful for some clients, practitioners should refer a client to a therapist when daily functioning is significantly impaired. The role of the career practitioner involves supporting a client’s career transition and healthy functioning, which can enhance the quality of self-care now and in the future.
Cherry, K. (2021, April 8). 5 surprising ways that stress affects your brain. VeryWellMind.com. https://www.verywellmind.com/surprising-ways-that-stress-affects-your-brain-2795040
Deems, R., & Deems, T. (n.d.). What happens to people who lose their jobs. Retrieved October 15, 2022 from https://www.worklifedesign.com/job-loss-reaction-cycle.html
Dorociak, K. E., Rupert, P. A., Bryant, F. B., & Zahniser, E. (2017). Development of a Self-Care Assessment for Psychologists. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(3), 325–334. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000206
Fuller, K. (2020, May 13). Mental health and job loss. PsychologyToday.com. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/202005/mental-health-and-job-loss
GlobalData. (2022, September 13). Around 60 top companies across sectors announced layoffs in August 2022, finds GlobalData. https://www.globaldata.com/media/business-fundamentals/around-60-top-companies-across-sectors-announced-layoffs-august-2022-finds-globaldata/
Leahy, R. (2009, February 23). Facing unemployment: Ten steps to handling your unemployment anxiety. PsychologyToday.com. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-files/200902/facing-unemployment-ten-steps-handling-your-unemployment-anxiety
Pappas, S. (2020). The toll of job loss: The unemployment crisis sparked by covid-19 are expected to have far reaching mental health impacts. The American Counseling Association, 51(7), 54. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/10/toll-job-loss#:~:text=The%20mental%20health%20impacts%20of,satisfaction%2C%20among%20other%20negative%20outcomes
Vonya R. Hodrick is the founder of Transcending Coaching, LLC. Vonya is a Success Life Coach, Licensed Professional Counselor and Social Worker. Vonya helps mid-career professionals, entrepreneurs, and professionals in the healthcare industry attain their highest potential through discovery and self-actualization. Vonya is a member of the National Career Development Association. Vonya is also a co-associate editor for Career Convergence magazine’s Workplaces section. Vonya can be reached at email@example.com
Elyse Pipitone is the owner of Blooming Careers Coaching and is a licensed certified social worker. She is a co-founder of The Career Experts Group, a consortium of coaches, resume writers, brand leaders, and diversity consultants offering career resources and guidance. Elyse is a member of Career Thought Leaders and Career Counselors’ Consortium Northeast, as well as the National Association of Social Workers. She is co-associate editor for Career Convergence magazine’s Workplaces section. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Peacock on Thursday 11/03/2022 at 06:49 AM
Great article and so timely! I particularly like the questions to help guide the creation of a self-care plan section. I could see sending a list of questions to a client ahead of a session to get them thinking about this. Thanks Elyse and Vonya
Brian Pillsbury on Monday 11/07/2022 at 12:42 PM
Thank you for an excellent article. As a university career counselor, I don't often work with people who experience job loss, especially not a job that is a significant part of their career. However, this is a good article with resources and ideas that could be useful for post-traditional students and certainly alumni.
Amy Mazur on Friday 11/25/2022 at 06:47 AM
Vonya and Elyse - Thank you for sharing this information and focusing on this important topic. The Work Intervention Network (WIN) is committed to training career practitioners interested in facilitating support groups focusing on the psychosocial/emotional issues related to the job search. A self-care module is included. Visit the Work Intervention Network (WIN) website at www.bc.edu/win to learn more about this free training.
Paula Kosin LCPC on Wednesday 02/08/2023 at 09:09 PM
Your article is well done and grounded in research.
Self-care: A category that is frequently overlooked includes health appointments and screenings: annual physical, mammogram, colonoscopy, eye and hearing exam, mental health screening, etc. All of these should not be overlooked but often lack of health insurance or money results in a job seeker’s neglecting these areas of self-care. A tough situation to be in, for sure.