Emotional Responses to Unemployment

by Lisa McQuerrey

Unemployment can produce a wide range of emotions that vary based on personal and financial circumstances and the duration of the time spent without a job. People who find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed may feel blindsided, which intensifies emotions. Employees who have an inkling of potential job loss and have time to mentally prepare often fare better from a stress perspective.


One of the first emotions associated with job loss is anger. You might be mad at your employer for not seeing your value, mismanaging the company to a point of closure or “robbing” you of your livelihood. You might also feel like you were treated unfairly or devalued by your employer, particularly if you dedicated a number of years to your position. You can feel taken advantage of or used, or even tricked or misled if the company was secretive about its plans for layoff or staff reduction. If your job loss or unemployment is related to your personal performance or behavior, you might also feel angry with yourself.


Resentment because of unemployment can take many forms. You might resent your employer, who let you go; resent colleagues who still have their jobs; or resent potential employers who interview you but choose not to hire you. You might also be resentful at having to dip into savings, or apply for unemployment benefits or social services. If outside factors, such as the economy, led to your unemployment, you might also harbor ill feelings against lawmakers, companies that outsource jobs or even society in general.


Fear is often the underlying cause for negative emotions. You might be fearful about your ability to find a new job, support yourself or your family, or even to retire comfortably. Most people lose benefits and retirement plans when they lose their jobs, which can lead to a sense of uncertainty for the future. Mounting financial problems and pressures can also lead to fear of loss, whether that is loss of a home, the opportunity to educate your children or the lifestyle you’re accustomed to.


Stress levels increase with unemployment, particularly if it’s long-term. You may begin to have feelings of panic or anxiety if your job search produces no viable results. You might also feel a sense of growing pressure if you’re facing timetables, such as debts or overdue financial obligations. If you have a spouse pressuring you to get a job or feel you're not qualified for positions of a similar caliber, you can feel under the gun to take anything, even if it's not a good fit for you. This can lead to elevated levels of stress that have the potential to negatively affect personal relationships.


Depression often accompanies a loss. You may have feelings of worthlessness, which can make it difficult to be proactive in finding a new job. You might also suffer from depression-related health maladies such as insomnia, fatigue and weight gain. Allowing depression to build can exacerbate the problem. Early intervention can help you refocus and develop viable plans for moving forward in rebuilding your professional life.

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