If every several days you wonder “Is this pandemic a nightmare and if so, when will I wake up?” you’re not alone. Two months ago none of us knew that more than 40,000 Alaskans would lose their jobs or that nine Alaskans would die from COVID-19. We didn’t expect that the rest of us would work in situations that put our health at risk or struggle to work remotely.
But it happened; here’s our new normal. More than 15% of U.S. employers permanently cut head count as of April 7; another 24% are considering it. One out of every 10 employers has permanently closed their doors. Three out of every 10 employers laid off employees as of April 7 and another 28% of employers are considering it. Nineteen percent of employers have decreased employees’ pay and another 38% have decreased their employees’ work hours, thus reducing their take-home pay. Seven in 10 employers and their employees struggle to adapt to remote work. Two out of every three employers say employee morale is sinking (“COVID-19 Research: How the Pandemic is Challenging and Changing Employers,” Society for Human Resource Management).
Given this, how do you navigate your way to a new normal?
In the same way you need to get your sea legs under you when you jump aboard a boat, you need to grab hold of your situation. If you’ve been laid off or furloughed, you’ve lost your income. Unlike other times when you exited one job and searched for a new one, you may not find paid work similar to the job you lost. Grocery stores, delivery and landscaping services are hiring, and there’s no shame in taking a paying job of any kind during a pandemic.
In addition to filing for unemployment and getting as much information from your former employer as you can about whether they’ll cash out your accrued paid leave or maintain your health insurance, find out if you’re eligible for COBRA or Medicaid. If not, The Affordable Care Act Marketplace offers a special enrollment period for those whose layoff means a loss of health insurance.
If you still have your job, you may struggle to maintain productivity or wonder if your job will be among the next to be chopped. When you first began to work remotely, you may have allowed worry or other distractions to erode your productivity, disappointing your employer and also yourself. While you can’t control your circumstances, you can control how you react to them. Working productively gives you a sense of purpose, raises your self-esteem and may help you keep your job, so identify what gets in your way and fix it.
Keep your perspective
In the words of Rudyard Kipling, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs,” you can make it through this. Yes, both the rug and the flooring have been pulled out from under you; however, you don’t need to let your life be defined by this one situation.
If you’re blaming yourself for any reason, ditch the shame. Ask yourself “What can I learn from this?” and “What can I do to make my life better?” rather than “Why me?” “Why not them?” and “Why didn’t I?”
Train your brain to reflect on what you have in your life, rather than what’s missing. If you’re grieving your job loss or what this has done to your career prospects, remember that we don’t “get over” grief, we move through it. You may even turn this temporary “fall back” into a long-term “spring forward”, because you’ll have had time to better appreciate the important things in your life that have nothing to do with your job.
Own your part
If you’ve lost your job, what do you need to do to move forward or what can you pivot to? Do you want to go back to school or enhance your talents? You may be able to secure a student loan for a distance learning institution or use the time you’re saving on commuting to learn new skills. If you have no other options, you can increase your physical activity and fitness or volunteer your time energy to a charitable organization. Volunteering helps you look outside your own problems and realize you have it better than many. Even if your actions don’t bring money in the door, you may be surprised by how good activity makes you feel. Our minds release feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine when we start new activities.
Keep your health
Finally, now is the perfect time to indulge yourself with self-care and to start any positive habits you’ve always told yourself you didn’t have time for. Swap out each of your unhealthy habits for healthy ones such as exercising regularly, eating well and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Avoid television — it doesn’t challenge you and thus produces low levels of satisfaction. Keep your mental health as well by taking a negativity diet from the steady stream of coronavirus news.
How do you navigate your way to a new normal? You keep your head in the game and get your sea legs under you.
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