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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

How to Deal With Layoff Anxiety (Whether or Not Your Job is on the Line)

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Picture this: you walk into the office on a Monday morning, ready to start the week, only to find out that a close friend and colleague has been laid off. Worse than that, you overhear murmurs that it might happen again. Amidst the mix of emotions—sadness, sympathy, relief for those who seem safe, and even a twinge of survivor's guilt—one feeling stands out: That layoff anxiety nagging in your mind, “Could I be next?”

Feeling growing anxiety about layoffs in the current economy is not uncommon (or unwarranted), says Mindy Shoss, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida. In 2023, companies planned 721,677 job cuts—a 98% increase from the cuts announced in 2022.

“Layoffs create a pervasive sense of anxiety and uncertainty, even for those whose jobs are not objectively threatened,” Shoss says. “Just watching what’s going on in the industry can cause concerns about the viability of your company and your own position, and it triggers a sense of heightened vigilance.”

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Layoff anxietybefore, during, and after it happens

Much of that anxiety comes from anticipation paired with uncertainty, explains Jessi Gold, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. “You have a picture of what it’s like for other people from what you’re hearing, and there’s that anticipation that ‘this could be me any second,’ so it feels overwhelming, and fear comes with that,” Gold says.

That uncertainty leads to reasonable questions, according to Mitchell Lee Marks, PhD, president of, an employment organization consultancy: “Will I have to start all over? Will I have to re-prove myself at a new workplace? Why is this happening?”

It’s also normal to feel frustration, Marks says, because layoffs “disrupt people’s sense of fair play.” People usually begin a job with expectations, such as opportunities for growth and advancement, and they put in their hard work as part of that deal. When they’re laid off, it feels like a betrayal of trust.

It’s not all bad news—read this next: 5 Lessons I've Learned From Being Laid Off

On the flip side, some workers might actually worry they won’t be laid off when they want to be because they’re miserable and seeking a fresh start. “Someone could get laid off, and it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to them because they didn’t like their job,” Marks says, but they didn’t have the confidence or ability to quit or move on.

Even after the layoffs have happened, anxiety and unease can continue to permeate the office atmosphere. “You could survive the cuts, but there’s the anxiety of, when’s it going to happen again?” Marks says. “More than one survivor of multiple waves of layoffs has said to me that they’re envious of the victims because the victims can get on with their lives.”

It’s not possible to eliminate all that stress and anxiety, but it is important to find a way to live with it. Here's how you can do it:

1. Focus on what you can control—and accept what you can't

Whatever situation you’re in, before, during or after layoffs, know that your feelings are valid, whatever they are. “Your feelings are telling you something, and that’s OK,” says Gold. “Whether it’s anxiety or anger or fear, don’t discount them.”

Gold is a big fan of the Serenity Prayer: focusing on what you can control, recognizing what you can’t, and figuring out the difference. She recommends people sit down and literally write a list of what they can and cannot control so that they can determine where to focus their energy.

“It might be outside your work sphere,” Gold says. “There are other worries or aspects of your life where you might have more control for the time being, that you might even have neglected, and you might need to turn to those.”

2. Shift your perspective

Shoss advises putting your anxiety to work by assessing how much you’re really at risk of losing your job and then thinking about what you would do if it happens. Instead of focusing only on the possibility of the loss, focus on what resources or opportunities you would have afterward. Knowing your options can help you feel better about the situation because you have a plan.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not going to hurt—it will,” she says. “But the more people can try to understand what the risks are and then what tools, connections, and skills they have to overcome them, the more helpful it is.”

3. Find what coping mechanisms works for you

You’ve probably heard that mindfulness meditation is a beneficial tool for managing stress. That’s true—plenty of research backs it up—but that doesn’t mean it works for everyone, and that’s OK too.

“I believe we did everybody a disservice by assuming all coping mechanisms work for everyone, that, for example, meditation and yoga are the answer,” Gold says.

If those strategies work for you, or if you’ve never tried them and are curious, go ahead and try them. But other equally valid coping mechanisms exist too, such as journaling, exercise, joining a sports team, or finding a new hobby, such as knitting or woodwork or cycling. (Need more ideas? Here's a list of 5 coping strategies for when you're feeling anxious at work.)

What’s not a good coping mechanism, however, is throwing yourself completely into your work in an attempt to prove to your company that you’re worth keeping.

“Some people will end up overworking themselves to the point of being exhausted or sick or neglecting their family or other important aspects of their lives,” says Shoss. “And that’s not healthy or sustainable.” Often, there isn’t even a correlation between who is laid off and who works the hardest, so instead of working yourself to death, work more strategically.

4. Take action

If layoffs are on the horizon, take action. “One of the ways to manage stress is to do active things,” Marks says. Taking action can help you reclaim power when you’d otherwise feel somewhat powerless. “So revise your resume and update your LinkedIn. Even if you never use it, just do it.”

He also recommends talking to people in the company to get a better handle on what’s coming. Gather whatever data you can and try to find out how susceptible your department might be to the cuts.

“Most people shut down and bury their head in the ground because they don’t want to come across as vulnerable, and they hope it will blow over,” he says. “Instead you should reach out, talk to people in HR, ask your former boss in a different department, talk to people and try to get information.”

They might not know any more than you do, so “don’t be bummed if they don’t deliver,” he says, but “that shouldn’t stop you from reaching out” to see what you can learn.

5. Make a plan

Another step you can take is to get your finances in order, which is helpful whether you’re cut loose or if you remain in your job.

Marks also recommends setting up a meeting with your boss, whether you suspect you’re about to get axed or not. It might be an opportunity to make enhancements to your job, and even ask for more responsibilities.

It may sound counterintuitive since you’re asking for more work without more pay, he says, but there are two benefits to this strategy when times improve. “One is that you’re showing you’re a team player and you’re being positive,” he says, and that can mean good references if your days at that company are numbered.

“Secondly, you’re going to have a resume that’s even better,” he says. “If it doesn’t pan out in your company, you look all the better down the road.”

6. Avoid negative self-talk…

One of the most insidious aspects of layoffs is the way they can seed self-doubt and cause friction among coworkers.

“There’s a sort of grief and loss and anger and frustration, a lack of clarity about ‘What am I doing here in this kind of place?’” Shoss says. “To some extent it hurts the people who really love the job the most, the people who are most committed to the organization, because it’s such a violation of their psychological contract, what they expected from work.”

That experience can be draining and lead people to question their self worth, so it’s important to separate yourself and your skills from your particular position. “Realize that who you are is more than just that one job in that particular organization,” Shoss says. Tell yourself, “let me take this opportunity to figure out who I am and what I can offer, and then try to take a positive step forward.”

7. …and negative shop talk

What you don’t want to do is contribute to a negative environment around you. “There are going to be a lot of people acting out with a lot of emotion. Listen to it, nod your head, but don’t contribute to it,” Marks says. “If they start ragging on the company, walk away, go get a cup of coffee—just don’t engage. There’s nothing healthy in that.”

Managing the aftermath

Regardless of whether you’re laid off or you’re left behind, expect to continue living with some tough emotions. If you’re among those who lose their jobs, it’s OK to take a moment to mourn, but don’t wallow. Instead, get to work following these steps, starting with getting organized and then reaching out to others in a similar position to create or join networking groups. Don’t expect things to move quickly, and take the time you need along the way.

Meanwhile, those left behind at the company have to reckon with a new mindset. “Even people who stay have essentially learned that their colleagues, some of whom they perhaps really liked or who did a really good job, are replaceable—or at least that’s what their company thinks, and it means the company thinks you’re also probably replaceable,” Shoss says. Or, the workers still at the company might experience survivor’s guilt, she says.

“Cut yourself and one another some slack and realize it’s painful,” Marks says. Survivors might feel more uptight and experience a lot more stress, so instead of trying to move from “negative to positive,” try moving from “severely negative to less negative” at first. Remember, this can be an opportunity for growth. Take the time to reassess your career goals, explore new opportunities, and build a stronger network that can support you in the future.