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Handling job loss, insecurity and career change

Priory experts share advice on handling job loss, insecurity and career change

  • Unemployment is directly linked to poor mental health
  • 25% of UK adults associate job loss with ‘trauma’
  • Priory experts discuss the impact of loss, job insecurity and ‘forced’ career changes on stress levels

The strain of the COVID-19 pandemic is especially strongly felt by those who have experienced unemployment and job insecurity over the past 18 months.

Some industries are struggling to fill places, with job vacancies reaching almost 1.2m in September (which is, in turn, causing stress for staff, and putting unprecedented pressure on managers). Other sectors have struggled to survive, fuelling huge anxiety amongst their workforce; while unemployment fell to 4.5% in the three months to August, it is still higher than pre-Covid levels.

Overall, there’s little doubt that the impact of the global pandemic on employers and employees will be felt for a considerable time, with the effects on people’s mental health yet to be fully seen or understood.

Research by the Mental Health Foundation found that 70% of UK adults felt that job loss has a profoundly negative effect on mental health; 45% associate unemployment with a strong sense of ‘loss’ while 25% associate it with ‘trauma’.

Job uncertainty, insecurity and ‘forced’ career changes can also have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

Priory psychotherapist Pamela Roberts says: “There’s feelings of loss, stress, and anxiety and these trigger various hormones such as cortisol, which is elevated when we experience heightened anxiety or stress. Then there’s the ‘flight or fight’ mechanism which can make us feel agitated, overwhelmed, fearful, and confused. There might be self-doubt.” Stress can also fuel addictions, she says.

Yet good mental health is a key factor in a person’s ‘employability’ and capacity to find a job they really want or keep the one they have.

To help people manage their stress, Priory experts have worked with My Possible Self on a new and free self-care mental health app.

It can act as a valuable tool for adults who are experiencing stress and anxiety, using CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) techniques.

Dr Paul McLaren, consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s Hayes Grove Hospital, says job loss can feel devastating.

“Eat well, get outside, exercise, sleep well, spend time with your loved ones,” he says.

“Guided meditation apps like My Possible Self, Headspace and Calm can be accessed for free, and can be helpful in reducing any anxiety, sleep troubles, or stress that you might be feeling. Keep a regular routine.”

Dr McLaren adds: “People need rhythm and pattern in their lives. Some of us need more pattern than others. We can feel stress when patterns are overrun and we have too much to do, but also when we have too little to do. We have an optimum level of activity and challenge. If we veer too far from that we feel stressed.

“Take a step back and think about the usual pattern of your life. How does it work when you’re at your most content? Break it down into its main elements and see if you can quantify them. You will need to be proactive and organise your time. Socialising through a video call will never be as powerful as meeting face to face, but it could produce some soothing. If you are out of work, replace your ‘work’ with networking and applying for any jobs, including part-time work or volunteering.”

For those rethinking their careers, this can bring high levels of stress, worry and ‘fear of the unknown’, which Pamela says is entirely normal but can be worked through.

“You might feel uncomfortable about having left your comfort zone initially. There may be a sense of an ending which is more profound than you had anticipated because you had invested so much in the job role that you lost and it played a significant part in your life. Uncertainty is a difficult thing for human beings to navigate. We often want absolute certainty. There are also societal warnings such as ‘better the devil you know’ and that kind of messaging which may wobble us.”

However, it is important to note that whilst the stress around changing jobs – particularly changing roles completely – can initially feel overwhelming, it can have a beneficial upside.

The pandemic has forced many people to step outside their boundaries and make life-altering decisions in terms of their careers, which they may never have done otherwise.

In terms of improving our wellbeing, Pamela commends the benefits of change:

“Change can be good for us. As US psychologist Susan Jeffers’ best-selling book says: ‘Feel the fear but do it anyway’. The benefits of change can be huge. If you do what you have always done, you will get what you always got. Change can mean we rethink habits, routines, thought processes, actions, even our diets. It can mean personal growth and regeneration.

“This reappraisal can be hugely beneficial. We can ditch what really wasn’t working (even if we thought it was) and replace it. We can move in new circles of people and learn new skills and become more motivated. If what we have chosen doesn’t work out, we might be less fearful about more change – because we have already cut the ties. Living life to your own true values sometimes means embracing change.”

Priory Group

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