Emotional Recovery From Job Loss

When Louise B. walked into her office and couldn't log onto to her computer, she just knew that something bad was about to happen. Moments later her boss told her that post-Sept. 11 economic events had wiped out her project. She was being laid off.

But Louise didn't hear the actual words. "My heart was pumping fast. Tears were starting to well up. A chorus was playing in my head — 'What am I going to do now?' I remember hearing myself pleading for "just one more month so I could find a job."

It was her second layoff in a year and she thought she knew what to expect. "I knew I was going to worry constantly about money. I was ready for my self-esteem to crash through a trapdoor. But I didn't expect to be physically sidelined."

During her first week of joblessness, Louise lost six pounds. She could barely get out of bed to interact with her children. She slept 12 hours a night, but was still exhausted. This ordinarily tough-as-nails, separated mother of three was in the throes of a mild depression.

Job Loss: More Than a Financial Issue

When a person is faced with such trauma as job loss, such physical symptoms are not uncommon. Studies have shown that trauma puts you at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, problems with drugs and alcohol, and illness, says Al Siebert, Ph.D., author of The Survivor Personality and a leader of workshops for survivors. Siebert has devoted his career to investigating why some people emerge stronger and better from the kinds of adversities that crush others.

What truly threatens one's health is the tendency to "somaticize" feelings, says Siebert. This happens when the anxiety and stress brought on by devastation are expressed through the body. Headaches, hypertension and ulcers are the usual signs.

Louise's depression did not persist. She was able to resume normal day-to-day activities within weeks and found a new job within months. "I think I always knew I would rebound," she says, "but I had to hit bottom before I could rise to the surface."

Emotional Resilience

Louise demonstrated the attributes of what Siebert calls "emotional resiliency." Initially, she dwelled on her difficulties and became too overwhelmed to function. But she bounced back, regaining enough emotional balance to commit to solving her problems. (Test your own resilience).