Over 22 million people have filed for unemployment, thrusting the United States into the worst crisis since the Great Depression, while other Americans worry that pay cuts and layoffs are on the horizon.
“Job loss can feel like a threat to our stability and survival,” Amanda Clayman, a psychotherapist and financial wellness advocate at Prudential tells TODAY. “For some of us, this threat is critical and immediate. Any time we’re dealing with multiple stressors, what we have available in terms of time, energy, focus and emotional capacity is going to be spread between them,” she explains. But when it comes to job loss, Clayman says our coping capacity is overwhelmed.
“There’s this palpable fear of actual death that coincides with this economic crisis, and that amplifies the stress,” says financial psychologist Brad Klontz, associate professor of practice in financial psychology and behavioral finance at Creighton University Heider College of Business. “What happens in the midst of a panic like this is we have catastrophic thinking. People think: ‘What if I lose all my money? Is this the end of the world — at least as I know it?,’”Klontz explains.
If you’re in shock and feel helpless, these financial therapists say are a few things you can do to mitigate financial anxiety.
If you’ve been laid off…
Getting laid off is traumatic under any circumstance but we’re especially vulnerable now because our familiar coping strategies — like networking in person — aren’t available to us anymore. “It’s hard to overstate how deeply we experience loss and vulnerability when our sense of identity and security are disrupted by job loss,” says Clayman.
Know you’re not alone
As millions of Americans are jobless, Clayman says any sort of stigma associated with it has essentially been eradicated. “There are many hard things right now about being out of the job, but one thing that is hopefully lessened is the sense that this is personally anyone’s fault,” she says.
Stay in the present
Clayman says the best thing you can do to protect your mental health is to stay focused on the here and now — and to avoid thinking beyond six months from now. “Solve the problems directly in front of you, and identify strategies to keep yourself safe for the next three to six months. I don’t recommend thinking more in the future. So much is changing so quickly, and there’s so much we don’t know.”
Walk through your worst-case scenario
If you’ve lost your job without much savings, hearing ‘you should’ve had an emergency fund’ isn’t helpful, says Klontz. “Your brain has basically an on-off switch on survival. It’s the same urge to run away from a saber-toothed tiger. In financial stress, your brain says, ‘Oh no, I’m going to die.’ That’s a very stressful place to live.”
To alleviate stress and figure out a short-term plan, Klontz recommends walking through your worst-case scenario, step-by-step, to realize you will make it through — even though it might feel like walking through fire. “It’s a matter of figuring out what you need to do to survive for the next three months, six months, without killing yourself from stress,” he says.