young girl kisses stressed dad on the cheek while he stares at bills

Coping With Job Loss

Advice for managing stress while unemployed

COVID-19 has changed our world in many ways – including how we work. Millions of Americans have filed jobless claims as a result of the pandemic, forcing many families to make adjustments that can be stressful for everyone.

“The loss of income puts financial strain on a person and the family unit, creating an added stressor to life,” said Catherine Langdon, Licensed Professional Counselor and Mental Health Clinician at ThedaCare Behavioral Health in Menasha. “Stress releases cortisol in the body – often known as the ‘stress hormone,’ which can lead to physical and mental health issues.”

With unemployment impacting each member of the family in different ways and at different times, the first step to managing stress is recognizing the symptoms for both adults and children.

Physical Health Triggers & Symptoms

“Over time, stress can negatively impact the body’s immune system,” Langdon added. “That means a person may be more at risk for both physical illness and the development or exacerbation of mental health issues.”

For example, a person may experience:

  • Headaches
  • Hypertension
  • Stomachache/digestion issues
  • Weight gain or a loss of appetite

Mental/Emotional/Behavioral Health Triggers & Symptoms

Emotionally, a parent will probably go through a grieving process before coming to terms with their new unemployed reality. This may include:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression

“Financial strain can influence a parent’s ability to be patient with their children as well as their overall engagement in parenting – spending meaningful time with kids, being emotionally available to them, helping children with schoolwork, and maintaining healthy and appropriate discipline,” Langdon said. “The stress may present itself in various ways.”

Langdon noted that impaired sleep and difficulty concentrating are signs that joblessness could be impacting your mental health. Here are other red flags:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety (excessive worry, panic attack, restlessness, obsessive thoughts)
  • Depression (social withdrawal, loss of interest/motivation, crying spells, feeling “numb”)

Changes in Children

“Everyone processes situations differently,” said Sharon Rink, MD, a Pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy. “Most kids do not have the capacity to understand a parent being jobless and its impact. Parents need to be sensitive to that fact and show their children more support when out of work.”

She added a child’s reaction will vary based on their age.

“While that process is taking place, younger children may throw tantrums, become irritable or physically aggressive and more socially isolated, or regress into bed-wetting or other behaviors atypical for their age,” Dr. Rink noted. “An older child may understand unemployment, but see the financial loss more from the perspective of ‘how does this affect me?’ and grieve the loss of trendy new clothes, a new video game, a car, or an upgraded smartphone.”

Teens have a heightened sense of security, so pediatricians advise parents to reassure them that the family will get through the pandemic together despite limited funds.


As the circumstances surrounding unemployment begin to take their toll on the mind and body, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope. Here are some ways to manage the mental and physical stress of losing a job.

Find Hope in Healing

Experts say addressing the impacts of job loss from the beginning, can help put you in a better position to persevere through the situation more healthfully.

“It may be easier to allow unhealthy behaviors and negative symptoms to occur initially, however the longer you wait to address it, the harder it is to change because you have started to build a habit, which will take time to unlearn and replace,” Langdon added. “Additionally, symptoms of anxiety, anger, and depression can worsen over time, and when not managed well, it can have a negative impact on your physical health.”

ThedaCare experts recommend these stress management strategies to regain a sense of purpose, routine and community often found in the workplace.

Practice Self-Care

Parents need to take care of themselves before helping their children. In addition to eating healthy and modeling good lifestyle habits, this includes exercise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. Consider developing distress tolerance skills, which include self-soothing using your five senses and distracting yourself from negative feelings.

Get Into a Routine

Build structure into your day. Set aside time to be productive at home with tasks such as chores, home schooling and budgeting with a reduced income. Balance that time with some relaxation and fun with activities such as playing games, making a meal together and watching a movie. Finally, allow for each family member to have alone time to reset and reduce overstimulation of noise and social interactions.

Practice Gratitude

Regularly take time to focus on the things that you have or that are going well. Appreciate how your basic needs are being met in the present. It shifts your focus away from what you lost or desire and do not have.

Give Back

Look into virtually volunteering at a local nonprofit. It will give you a sense of purpose and community, and might lead to new friendships.

Develop a New Skill Set

Engage in a new hobby that brings you joy and provides a sense of accomplishment. It can boost your mood and allow you to feel an element of control at a time when you might otherwise feel powerless.

Seek Help

Finally, don’t be afraid to lean on others for help. With joblessness, there is an increased demand for basic supports such as food, rental assistance, social connection, and mental health care. Many residents are finding themselves in need, some for the first time. That might lead to parents and kids losing their ability to maintain higher level needs such as social relationships or self-esteem.

The Fox Cities is rich with people and organizations eager to help others through this challenging time by providing services, financial support, volunteering, in-kind donations, and advocacy. United Way Fox Cities has launched the Give Help • Get Help Hub website to provide a convenient, easy-to-use, “one-stop-shop” for those who need help and those who want to give help in the Fox Cities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For additional tips on managing stress, check out Keeping Calm During The COVID-19 Pandemic.