The coronavirus has forced many businesses to reduce operations or to close down completely due to local government mandates, and as a result many people have lost and continue to lose their jobs. As of today, about 6.6 million people applied for unemployment and hundreds more (like myself) have not been counted because the application system is crashing from the volume.
Job loss is difficult, not just the financial uncertainty, but the loss of the familiar routine, the community of colleagues, and the sense of purpose from work. Then include the anxieties around a global health crisis and the looming fear of a fast approaching recession… trying to figure out next steps can be overwhelming. It was for me.
Here are four things I’ve learned in the first week:
- Feel your emotions
At first I was shocked. Even though I was saying for weeks that I might get laid off or that the company might fail, I was still stunned when I heard the message over that video conference. I was let go in a mass lay-off, so the message wasn’t even personally for me!
Emotions are like debts to be paid, and I have learned it is best to pay when it is due. I am the kind of person to brush off discomfort – I don’t want to feel it. I think that many people might agree. We scroll past content we don’t want to look at or deal with, we swipe left, we leave messages on “seen” and do not reply. Your emotions are not so easily filtered or blocked.
Losing a job is like any other loss – you grieve. I tried to play it cool, saying this was partially something I wanted – a break, the gift of not having to work. Then I was in denial, why change my employment on LinkedIn? The company still hadn’t issued the formal severance letter after all. Then anger when I did receive the severance agreement and wondering how a class action lawsuit might work…
However you feel, in whatever order they come, should be greeted like an old friend.
The buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to greet our suffering: “Hello, my pain. I know you are there, and I will take care of you. You don’t need to be afraid.“
He reminds us that,
“When suffering comes up, we have to be present for it. We shouldn’t run away from it or cover it up with consumption, distraction, or diversion. We should simply recognize it and embrace it, like a mother lovingly embracing a crying baby in her arms. The mother is mindfulness, and the crying baby is suffering. The mother has the energy of gentleness and love. When the baby is embraced by the mother, it feels comforted and immediately suffers less, even though the mother does not yet know exactly what the problem is. Just the fact that the mother is embracing the baby is enough to help the baby suffer less. We don’t need to know where the suffering is coming from. We just need to embrace it, and that already brings some relief. As our suffering begins to calm down, we know we will get through it.”
- Structure your day
A job gives your life routine, as do events, obligations, and plans with others. In this quarantine and especially if you’ve lost your job, all of that structure goes to shit.
Now is more important than ever to be mindful of your energy, focus, and attention. Will you spend your days drowning in emotions, avoiding your new reality with mindless scrolling on social media, or applying ferociously to any and all open roles until you burn out?
Give your day some structure, starting with waking up and going to bed at a consistent time. Maybe schedule 15 minutes of movement in the morning, even if it’s just stretch or walking around your home for a set period of time – get your body moving even if you don’t physically have anywhere to go. Schedule your meals, times to connect with friends and family – use a calendar, and set reminders. This can help provide some certainty and control in your day to day, and thus some peace as well.
Don’t worry if you didn’t have lunch exactly when you scheduled for it. Remember this is your life and you are the Boss.
- Take care of yourself
Just because no one is going into the office or being seen by others, doesn’t mean you should neglect hygiene and self care. Recognize you inhabit a body that requires regular maintenance. Take that luxurious shower, take care of your hair, nails, teeth. Fix yourself an extra fancy meal and remember to drink enough water throughout the day.
Many people are not used to being home for such long periods of time. The things we are used to doing during limited time, between house chores and rushing off to a job, might get lost in the wide stretch of time we now have. We no longer grab a coffee before that meeting – make that coffee at home. We no longer are rushing to catch that train – move your body in the morning, even if it’s just walking from one side of the room to the other.
Taking care of yourself is different for each person. It was probably easier to discern what activity was for “me” vs “everybody else” when we had less time for ourselves. With all this time, remember those activities for you are even more important now.
For me this was remembering to do the manicure and pedicure at home. Usually I did this biweekly and it was perfectly timed with… my paychecks! Which I no longer receive. Now, I just set a recurring calendar event as a reminder.
- Take care of the paperwork
Even as you try to structure this new normal, there may be some time sensitive tasks you should complete as soon as possible.
I gave myself a few days to consider the separation agreement and decide on a severance package. Sign the paperwork with your company, then move on.
Figure out your benefits – log in to your 401k, healthcare savings account, transit account, or other applicable benefits. Change the email address to a personal one if these accounts were tired to your work contact information.
For health insurance, when is your last day of coverage? Will you continue with COBRA? Are there any doctor’s appointments you were putting off? Can you move up those visits, exams, and tests?
Also remember that job loss is a life event and makes you eligible for open enrollment.
My employer fortunately gave us one month of COBRA coverage, so I moved all my annual visits up. Also each new insurer doesn’t know about your past medical history, and there is usually an annual “allotment” of preventative care visits you are eligible for.
Since I know that I will likely switch insurance providers (either by getting covered under a new employer sponsored plan if I get a job or by switching to open enrollment where I pay out of pocket), I used all my annual visits for this carrier – give me that annual physical please.
Writing throughout this process has helped me organize my thoughts and feelings as I transition to this new phase of my daily life.