When talking about the tremendous job loss that the pandemic has triggered, we often discuss the financial implications. Naturally, that’s the main focus for many. Without financial stability, it’s hard to focus on much else. That being said – and I’ll tread lightly here – money is replaceable. Understandably, it’s much more difficult to replace for some than for others, and certain groups are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to trying to rebuild wealth. But money is a thing, and things are something that many of us have long agreed is replaceable.
The purpose of bringing up the replaceable loss that comes from unemployment is to bring up the consequence that’s not as easy to fix: identity loss. Maybe you know someone who is financially fine, in spite of having lost their job. They have savings. They have other forms of income. They aren’t worried about putting food on the table or paying the rent and yet, they’re spiralling out of control. Maybe that person is you. If your career is a huge part of your identity – or, even arguably your entire identity – then this can be a very troubling time. We spoke with Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Altagracia Andre (IG: altagracia_lmft) of Caring Therapists about how to cope if the pandemic took your job and your job was your identity. We also chatted about how this change can impact couples.
The risk of tying your identity to your career
“In the hyper-working culture that we live in, it’s easy to lose ourselves in our work,” says Andre. “Losing your career when your work has been your identity can lead to increased mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, a loss of purpose, and lower self-esteem.”
Research has found that every month of unemployment that passes can significantly impact one’s self-esteem – especially for young adults.
Are we workaholics?
Is America in particular plagued with feelings of “My work is who I am?” Perhaps. As recently as the 1960s, it was uncommon for a mother to work, and now 70 percent of mothers of children under the age of 18 go to work. America is also one of the few countries that doesn’t have any laws stating a maximum number of hours one can work in a week and the majority of workers put in more than 40 hours a week. So when jobs went away during the pandemic, daily life changed drastically for many Americans.
The potential consequences of career/identity loss
“For someone for whom their identity was their career, losing their job may cause them to begin to believe that they are not good enough, believe that they may be a burden to those around them, they may experience relationship issues, anger outbursts, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation,” states Andre.
When a professional is needed
Andre says that if someone is experiencing the symptoms laid out in the previous slide, they should speak to a mental health expert. “Someone struggling with those would be recommended to seek out professional help to assist them in challenging the negative thoughts, explore the underlying issues, and manage emotions.”
How job loss impacts a relationship
If the recently unemployed individual is in a committed relationship, this new stress can take a toll on their partner, too. “Financial stress can lead to increased arguments, resentment, shame, and guilt,” says Andre. “As a partner, engage in conversations that focus on separating your relationship from the external stress. Allow your partner to express their emotions without judging them, validate their feelings, avoid criticism, and offer support.”
If you aren’t your job, then who are you?
We asked Andre how one can re-find their identity if their job was their identity before the pandemic. She advised, “One should hang their identity more on who they are outside of the work environment. To do so, one would explore the other hats they wore prior to that job or their career.”
Gardens that need tending now
Andre encourages those who are struggling with a job-related identity crisis to focus on other factions of their life right now. This lockdown has provided an opportunity to turn one’s attention to long-untended gardens. Andre suggests asking yourself, “Are there areas of life that might have suffered due to this job? Are there any hobbies or interests that might have taken a back burner as a result? Any relationships that suffered that may need mending?”
We’ve discovered our resilience and innovation
We asked Andre what lessons we can take from this time in history, particularly when it comes to the workspace and our careers. “This pandemic has shown how connected we are as a species when you think of how easily the virus was spread across the world. We learned that we are resilient, adaptable, and creative. From the creative masks or the business ventures that have risen as a result to meet the needs of the new status quo, we have managed to take space.”
A look at innovation during this time
Even though the impetus was tragic, the coronavirus pandemic did stimulate several industries and create some jobs that would have never existed without it. The gaming industry has taken off, with many individuals now making a living as live-stream gamers. Then there are jobs like COVID-19 contact tracers and testers. And what about all of the new shops popping up on Etsy, designing fashionable masks? We’ve proven the saying “Necessity is the mother of innovation” to be very true.
Practices we can carry with us
In the hopes that this pandemic isn’t just wasted time, we asked Andre what new practices we might take from lockdown, back into our normal lives. “When things return to normal and we are all sitting in an office with no masks on, I hope we remember the simple hygiene practices we maybe didn’t pay much attention to, that teamwork does make the dream work, and that we are capable of so much more.”