Life after job loss: How to keep yourself healthy

by Kaiser Permanente |
Person meditating outside their home

The U.S. economy lost over 20 million jobs in April 2020,1 resulting in more than 11.1 million people remaining unemployed six months later.2

The job market has since largely recovered.3 But widespread job loss during the pandemic contributed to an increase in anxiety and depression, says Anabel Basulto, a licensed marriage and family therapist for Kaiser Permanente.

While out of work, "a lot of people had to rely on their savings, and some of them didn’t have savings," Basulto says.

She continues, "There’s a fine line between anxiety and depression. It starts with anxiety, hoping ‘I’m going to get hired or called to go back to work,’ and when the call doesn’t come, they begin to feel hopeless and helpless."

In a job market where companies are slow to hire new employees, or rehire laid-off workers, it can be easy to lose hope. During this waiting period, feelings of despair may spike as bills continue to come in. Basulto offers 3 tips for protecting your mental health after job loss.

Take care of yourself first

"Self-care and finances go hand-in-hand. If you do not take care of yourself, you won’t be able to think or plan," she says. "It comes from the inside out, so you have to eat healthy, and try to exercise. We haven’t been out and doing much, but moving helps you cope with stress and feel better."

Try to get out of the house when possible for a short walk — and remember to stay hydrated throughout the day. These simple tasks can help keep your mood steady and relieve stress and anxiety.

Focus on what you can control

"I tell my clients, only worry about things you can control," Basulto says. "You don’t have control over whether your employer is going to ask you to come back or not, but you do have control over what you’re going to do next."

It might not always feel like it, but Basulto says it can be helpful to reframe any periods of unemployment or underemployment as an "opportunity to reassess your lifestyle in order to make better choices for the future."

If you were unhappy with your career path prior to the pandemic, this is the chance to explore new opportunities you wouldn’t have considered before. To keep yourself focused on the future, you can connect with peers in a different industry or try out a new hobby that could develop into a potential job.

Create a plan

It’s important to put together a plan to ride out the tough financial times.

When working with clients, Basulto says, "I tell them to create a financial plan — consolidate debt, find out what’s available through different government programs. Some creditors have relief programs, and even utility companies are working with people right now, but you have to go out there and seek out the information."

Basulto also recommends having a solid support system. Whether it’s through an online community, school, or home, it helps to have friends and family to lean on right now. Above all, remember to be kind to yourself during this time and know that you’re not alone.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard," Basulto points out. "That’s a good thing and helps us become better versions of ourselves, but we have to be realistic that these have been really difficult times."

If you or someone you love has experienced job loss, find out how to connect to community resources in your area.

Get the health care coverage you need

If you need information about health coverage after a layoff, learn about your options for continuing coverage.

"TED: The Economics Daily: Payroll Employment Down 20.5 Million in April 2020," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 12, 2020.

"The Employment Situation — October 2020," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics news release, accessed November 13, 2020.

"The Employment Situation — January 2023," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics news release, accessed March 7, 2023.