DBT Skills for Coping With Job Loss

Careers fulfill a number of functions in our lives, including satisfying our need to achieve, bringing us income, creating a sense of belonging and stability, and helping us to feel empowered and accomplished. Therefore, when losing a job (which can often be so integrated with your identity), we can notice an immediate and significant decline in your mental health. According to a Gallup poll in 2013, unemployed Americans are more than 2x as likely to be treated for depression as those with full-time jobs.

Millions of Americans were laid off over the course of the COVID pandemic, which most likely directly correlated to a significant spike in mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. More people than ever are seeking mental health support as a result of job loss.

If you’re in the same boat, the first step you need to take is to avoid negative self-talk. In order to cope and move forward, you’ll need to choose to be around others who can help you see the best in yourself, along with any new opportunities, in order to stay positive. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network for support, and to create some space and distance from your situation in order to find peace. 

The common feelings of depression and anxiety associated with job loss make it a great choice for many to seek out low-cost therapy. While finances may be tight as you seek out a new position, or you may have lost access to your health insurance, many online group therapy options offer a low-cost alternative to traditional one on one therapy that can help you survive the in-between without significant negative impact to your mental health or turning to poor coping mechanisms (like disordered eating or substance abuse). 

Using DBT Therapy to Cope With Job Loss

One specific type of online group therapy treatment that can help individuals struggling with the reality of job loss is Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT. 

The reason DBT can be specifically helpful for coping with job loss is that it offers a form of therapy that combines two critical realities (that may appear opposite) - acceptance, and change. In order to avoid increasing emotional distress, you must first accept your present reality, and then pursue positive change. 

A few common symptoms following job loss are anxiety and depression, for which DBT has been seen to be very effective. This is because DBT follows 4 very specific modules and a series of skills trainings that can help mitigate emotional crisis and help you stay grounded in the moment. 

DBT modules include: 

  • Mindfulness: learning to be fully aware and present in the moment. 
  • Distress Tolerance: discovering how to tolerate emotional pain in difficult situations, rather than fight it. 
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: learning how to ask for what you want and establish boundaries while maintaining self-respect and healthy relationships with others. 
  • Emotion Regulation: discovering how to decrease susceptibility to painful emotions and purposefully change emotions that don’t serve you. 

Here are just a couple oftools taught throughout DBT modules that can help you cope with the reality of job loss. 


Radical Acceptance

The foundational principle of radical acceptance is the belief that all emotional suffering can be traced back to your attachment to a situation or the pain you’re experiencing. According to radical acceptance, relief from our suffering begins with accepting our circumstances, rather than fighting them (which can prolong healing and increase distress). Starting on the road to radical acceptance means choosing to avoid judgment of yourself or your circumstances, and avoiding the temptation to fight against your situation. It is possible to both recognize your emotions, face the gravity of your challenges, and avoid becoming reactive or spinning out of control. 

When looking to utilize radical acceptance to reduce anxiety or mitigate depression, it becomes critically important to focus on what you can control, take care of your basic needs and physical health, and use other tools (such as mindfulness and self soothing, illustrated below) to remain present in the moment, rather than ruminating on the unknowns of the future. 


Learning to decrease your vulnerability to emotional upheaval begins with learning to calm yourself when anxiety rises. This can help head off panic attacks and other crippling symptoms of anxiety, or the depression associated with the vulnerability we feel when our emotions spin out of control. Self-soothing through mindfulness can help you slow down escalating, worrisome thoughts in order to shift toward a sense of peace in the midst of difficult times.

DBT covers a wide variety of techniques for self-soothing, including core exercises like grounding and other components of mindfulness. There are many types of mindfulness, including breathing exercises, meditations and grounding sequences like the one below. Learning to leverage these skills through your DBT sessions can help bring you back to the present when you feel your concern over a recent perceived failure or future concern turning into crippling anxiety, isolation, or depression. 

Try these mindfulness exercise the next time you find yourself obsessing over the future: 

  • Take time to sit peacefully and quietly and notice each of the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, sound. Dwelling on each of these one by one, articulate to yourself in your mind what you perceive. 
  • Focus on breathing when emotions are heightened, taking time to slow your breath down. “Square” breathing is an easy breath technique that simply involves breathing in a “Square,” or breathing to a 4-6 count in, hold for 4-6 seconds, breathe for a 4-6 count out, hold for 4-6 seconds, and repeat. 
  • Body scanning is another mindfulness technique that involves lying flat on your back with your arms at your sides, and then focusing sequentially on each part of your body from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. 

These and many other core tenants of DBT can help you not only survive, but thrive the difficult period of grieving after job loss. 


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