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3 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety During Layoff Season

Is "defensive pessimism" the answer to layoff anxiety?

Key points

  • Many people struggle with work-related anxieties, including the fear of being laid off.
  • Identifying one’s triggers and planning ahead as much as possible can help.
  • Reflecting on one’s strengths and holistic identity can also stave off anxiety.
Christina Wocinchchat / Unsplash
Source: Christina Wocinchchat / Unsplash

Many people grapple with work-related anxieties, such as:

  • “When I check my emails in the morning, I fear I might be locked out of my job.”
  • “I am working tirelessly to prove my worth as an employee and I still feel inadequate.”
  • “I’m on pins and needles every day waiting to hear what this corporate restructuring will mean for me.”

If you relate to the above, know that you are not alone.

Constant worry about losing your employment can have a negative influence on your well-being. Nobody likes to exist in a prolonged state of uncertainty.

According to research published in Frontiers in Psychology, job insecurity can have a detrimental effect on your motivation and focus and can cause mental health problems including anxiety and depression.

Being laid off is tough. Feeling a wide range of emotions in the aftermath of a layoff – including sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety — is natural.

If you’re struggling to cope with anxiety related to job insecurity or a potential layoff, here are three things you can do to manage it.

1. Identify your triggers and plan ahead

The first step is to identify what is triggering your anxiety. Knowing the cause of your anxiety can help you to develop a plan to address your concerns — perhaps by deploying "defensive pessimism."

A study published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass found that defensive pessimism, or mentally practicing your response to worst-case scenarios, can help you manage anxiety in a healthy way.

For instance, once you have some clarity about the cause of your anxiety, create a contingency plan. Consider what you would do if you were suddenly fired. What would be your course of action? Do you have emergency funds? Detail every step of your plan. Consider your approach to dealing with issues like money, health, and employment.

The activity of making contingency plans will give you a sense of control which can help quell your anxiety.

2. Remind yourself of your strength

When you’re caught in a challenging situation, try to recall some of the hardest things you’ve successfully overcome in your life.

A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology showed that people who were made to think of a situation they overcame displayed enhanced psychological well-being.

Immerse yourself in reflection. Start by thinking of an instance that was difficult for you to handle and ask yourself questions like:

  • “What qualities enabled me to succeed?”
  • “How was that situation similar to my present situation?”

Reminding yourself of how you’ve confronted and risen above adversity in the past is a well-proven resilience strategy. This will help you recognize your resourcefulness in the event you face a layoff.

3. Your work is just part of your identity, not all of it

A study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology showed that people who reduce themselves down to one attribute — their job for instance — are more likely to feel dehumanized (like nothing more than a machine or tool) and have higher levels of disengagement, depression, and burnout.

This highlights the importance of diversifying your sense of self. You can start by investing in several facets of your life. For instance:

  • Spend time on your hobbies. Pick a new one or get back to something that you might have abandoned.
  • Get your fitness regimen back on track. Look into enhancing your mental and physical well-being through activities that encourage you to move your body.

Diversifying your identity can prevent you from losing any sense of who you are when things at work aren’t going well.


Losing your job is a difficult experience, but there are things you can do to help manage your anxiety during this time. Remember that you are not alone. Stay positive. Keep your mind occupied. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. And don’t be afraid to seek out professional help.

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