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Job Loss and the Stages of Grief: Coping and Recovering

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Grief is the price we pay for loving someone, or investing our feelings heavily in a job or a business. It’s part of the deal. If you gain from being close or heavily invested in something or someone, then you grieve when that is taken away.

But grief is not an illness; it is a natural process of psychological adjustment to the loss of a significant part of our lives. It is not about forgetting either, or ‘just moving on’. It is about how we come to live with a loss and build our lives around the hole that is left.

Grief has been most closely studied in patients who know they are terminally ill or people who have lost a loved one. There are a number of different psychological formulations of the process, but it is important to remember that there is no ‘checklist’ and it is not a linear process. Not everyone goes through every stage with every loss, and there is a lot of overlap.

That said, the stages can be summarised as;

  • Anger and scapegoating:  blaming someone, or something, for the loss
  • Bargaining
  • Despair and depression
  • Acceptance

Here’s how to deal with grief:

Share your feelings

The key is expressing it. Mourning is the expression of grief, and we have ‘culturally sanctioned’ mourning rituals which are created to help us with the loss of loved ones.  But while there are social and cultural processes for this, it’s different when your grief is for the loss of a much-loved job for example or a business you have spent a lifetime building.

Sharing your feelings is central to grieving. We need to find different ways of sharing for different losses like a job loss. Let someone you trust know how you feel. It’s okay to say that it’s painful and that it hurts.  It’s okay to feel sad. It’s OK to remember the good times and to appreciate what you have lost. Don’t pretend to yourself or others that it doesn’t matter.  Let them know it does.

And, watch out for denial. It’s ok to feel pain when something happens that hurts. Don’t try to numb it with drugs or alcohol.

Keep a routine

It can be very difficult to keep motivated and remain optimistic in these uncertain times – especially when financial worries mount up but try to maintain some routines, to help alleviate the anxiety.

People need rhythm and pattern in their lives. Some of us need more pattern than others. We can feel stress when these 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. You could use your typical working hours to network and apply for any jobs, including part-time work or volunteering. Also make time for socialising, which may be through video calls at the minute. While this will never be as powerful as meeting face-to-face, it can still be soothing.


Image credit: Freepik

Dr Paul McLaren, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove.

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