Your Career Q&A: Managing the Stress of a Layoff, Job-Hunting

By Martin Yate October 9, 2018
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​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I got laid off for the first time in my 20-year career. It took me easily five months to really understand how the game is played today; thanks for opening the door with this column. Problem is the money is running out, I still haven't landed a job and it is incredibly stressful. Is there a way for me to manage the stress? It's tearing me apart.

This is a great question that rarely gets asked. I work with people in similar situations all the time, and everyone strives to hide how worried they are and how their self-image is deteriorating.

When you are used to working with purpose and commitment, being without a job is a terrible blow to the ego. But there are some things you can do now to help manage the stress while you work to find your next job:

Seek out new faces and try new things. Withdraw, and you isolate yourself from people and life, leaving you in an increasing tangle of self-doubt, which does nothing but damage your productivity and sense of self. You need interaction with others.

My passion for two of my now-favorite activities came from discovering how to survive and come back from catastrophe. About 17 years ago, I started going to a group dance class and got hooked—happy atmosphere, lots of new people all struggling to achieve and laughing along the way. Nowadays, whatever the music, if it has beat, I'll be up on the floor dancing with someone … and it all started with a $3 group dance class during a difficult time in my life.

The second activity? I'm not very good at it, but I feel enormous joy and emotional renewal when I'm playing my bass guitar.

When you take on something new and have to concentrate to learn, there's no room for any other worries and you come out of that activity refreshed and energized, feeling like you've had a vacation and are ready for action.

Get some fresh air. Work on your resume or job search in a coffeeshop for an hour every day. Then get outside for a daily walk in the park or engage in another type of physical exercise (good for mind, body and soul) that allows you to interact with others.

Learn from your missteps. Whenever things don't go as planned in your job search, identify where you went wrong or could have done something better or differently. Each occurrence is a learning experience you can't afford to miss. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, and what you're going through right now is a learning experience you can benefit from for the rest of your life. Getting interviews and turning them into offers are nearly everyone's two weakest professional survival skills, simply because we have so little experience exercising them. Learn to turn these weaknesses into strengths, and you'll get past these rough waters faster and will be better prepared for future job changes.

Stay positive. It's said that the same rain falls in everyone's life, just at different times. We've all had our share of rough patches, and it's at times like these we need to remember that tough times come and then they go.

I've been down and out four times in my life. Every time, I started to turn things around by reading a book published almost 70 years ago: The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. It has lasted this long because it teaches practical ways to get from where you are to where you want to go. You can get a used copy from Amazon that won't cost more than $5, shipped to your door. One phrase in this book—"Whatever you can conceive, you can achieve"—led someone we both know to earn promotions and write 85 editions of 18 books. This old book really can turn your head around.

Don't wallow in bad news. "Blood leads" is a common phrase in the media industry. Murder, catastrophe, anger-inducing news is what pulls in readers, listeners and viewers and fills the 24/7 media circus we live in. You are already frustrated, so anger and bad news are the last things you need. It is important to manage the messages that you allow into your mind. Limit or cut out the hate messages that spew forth every day, and replace them entirely with positive, encouraging and empowering sources of information.

Unplug. On average, Americans spend 11 hours every day watching screens. During that time, we see hundreds of advertisements telling us how badly we need to buy a particular item and how much better our lives will be as a result. The last thing you need right now is more stuff you can't afford. Make every effort to manage the time you spend in front of screens productively, and then get away from them.

Give these ideas a try, and no matter what is going on, do whatever it takes to make some good memories for yourself every week.

It's a commitment that works.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions (SHRM, 2018), is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today. 

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