Losing a job can feel devastating. When uncertainty and stress start to wear on your mental health, try these expert tips to feel confident again.

The average person spends about one-third of their life at work. Our jobs often give us a sense of purpose and financial stability. For some of us, even our identities can be tied to our careers.

So when you lose your job, it can feel like being at sea in a storm without a sail.

You may worry about how you’ll pay bills or that you’ll lose connection to your community. You may feel useless. And sometimes the loss of routine and predictability alone can be enough to throw your world into a tailspin.

But there are steps you can take to keep your head above water and find solid ground again.

“Work and mental health are closely interconnected,” says Daniel Griffiths, PhD, a research fellow at the Health Working Lives Research Group at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University in Australia.

Recent research from Griffiths shows that people who lost work during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic were at higher risk of psychological distress, determined by how hopeless, restless, and exhausted they felt.

A 2021 study that looked at unemployment and changes in mental health among adults in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic found that rates of stress, anxiety, and depression increased with job loss.

It’s not uncommon after losing a job to feel stressed, lose sleep, question your identity, and even notice your self-esteem slipping, explains Connie Wanberg, PhD, a professor and researcher focused on unemployment at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

If COVID affected your employment status, you’re not alone. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 10 million people lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even without major disruptions such as a pandemic, job uncertainty can rear its ugly head for other reasons, affecting the lives of those caught in the chaos of corporate restructuring, waning industries, and recession.

These are rough waters, but there are strategies you can try to help navigate the anxiety and uncertainty of this major life transition.

Stay social and seek support from friends and family

Griffiths’s 2021 study suggests that the stress, anxiety, and depression that often accompany job loss can be reduced by social interaction.

He and his colleagues at Monash University surveyed more than 2,600 Australian adults during the beginning of the pandemic.

Nearly 30% of those surveyed who had lost their jobs reported psychological distress. But the odds of feeling that distress increased more than 7 times if they had less social support.

“Actions that reduce social isolation and promote positive connections with others may support mental health during times of work loss,” says Griffiths. “Loneliness and social isolation have been associated with increased mortality, as well as adverse physical and mental health outcomes.”

He recommends considering activities that focus on caring for others or involve group interaction, or participating in clubs and sports.

Keep active

A 2021 study suggests that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including physical activity, may also help reduce the mental health impacts of job loss.

Sedentary behaviors, particularly time on your phone or computer, may be associated with a higher risk of depression, according to a 2020 study. Physical activity may lower this risk, a 2021 study discovered.

A 2019 study suggests that physical activity may also prevent anxiety symptoms.

So when you’re in the throes of a major job transition, consider what physical activity changes you can make to your daily routine now that you may have a different schedule.

Seek professional help

If you’re having trouble finding stability after a job loss, consider seeking therapeutic support. A mental health professional may be able to help boost your self-esteem and help you figure out your next steps.

Being in shape mentally could also mean feeling more secure and emotionally resilient as you head back out for job interviews, says Wanberg. “Despite low unemployment rates, it can take time to find the right job match and the job seeker has to stay positive despite rejections,” she adds.

A 2021 study on mental health and job loss during COVID-19 in England and Ireland suggests that mental toughness may help prevent the increased anxiety, depression, and stress often associated with a sudden change in employment.

Mental toughness refers to the idea that you can remain positive, despite any ups and downs you may face, and not fall into deep distress, according to 2020 research.

Successful strategies for building mental toughness may include:

These concepts could be learned, practiced, and reinforced through therapy.

If you chose to explore this path, you might work with a mental health professional on how to manage your emotions and commit to following through with goals, despite obstacles.

You may also start to rewire your thoughts around job loss and start to see your new circumstance as an opportunity to make a change.

In addition to building mental toughness, therapy may also help boost your confidence and sense of self-worth, regardless of setbacks.

Focus on finding a job that feels aligned with your interests and values

Griffiths and his colleagues ran a follow-up study in 2022 that looked at long-term changes in work and mental health during the pandemic.

This research illustrated that mental health worsens the longer someone is unemployed. “This exemplifies the importance of early interventions to return to work,” he says.

Both Griffiths and Wanberg emphasize finding work you align with, or that feels “good.”

Wanberg recommends being proactive and systematic. “Decide what types of positions you’re interested in applying for, then create a job search route that involves information interviews, looking for jobs on company sites and other job platforms, and applying for these jobs,” she says.

Losing a job can be overwhelming and scary. It may even have you questioning your career path. But with the right support, it can also be a doorway to positive change and growth.

Allowing yourself to grieve the loss can help you move forward. Consider asking for help if you need it, and try to give yourself permission to explore new opportunities.

If you feel the need to re-evaluate how you spend your working hours, you may want to take a career test to help you find a job that feels more aligned with your values, interests, skills, and strengths.

Try to be kind to yourself, knowing that you’re more than your job.