Laid Off Calgary: A peer support group for Calgarians experiencing unemployment

Every morning the majority of Calgarians head off to work, it’s just what we do. Jobs not only allow us to put food on the table, they are also a place to connect with others; a place where we can feel as though we belong. The work we do is often a big part of our lives, and losing a job can have a huge impact on our mental health. Unfortunately, this is the current reality for many in our city who have recently found themselves unemployed as a result of the current economic state here in Calgary, and across the province.

Bianca Sinclair, a Calgary professional and Psychology major at Athabasca University, noticed the impact that job loss was having on her fellow Calgarians. In response, she started Laid Off Calgary, a group that combines mindfulness and peer support in hopes of helping its members cope with the change and the emotions that come along with it. Laid Off Calgary meets weekly and is open to anyone experiencing job loss, giving them a chance to connect with others in a similar position.

“My hope is to provide a safe and comfortable place where people can talk and listen with one another and not feel so alone,” she explains. “I wanted to get back to the roots of conversation where people can really feel heard. I find when feelings and thoughts are acknowledged then powerful shifts can start to take place.”

In addition to peer connection, Bianca also provides workshop-style education when it comes to understanding and coping with the emotions that come with job loss. She incorporates her experience as yoga instructor to bring mindfulness practices into the meetings as a way to calm anxieties and stress, and also invites industry professionals such as HR specialists to answer questions and to provide tips to help people re-engage with the workforce. Bianca collects feedback from the beginning and end of every session, and has seen success when it comes to the changes in people’s emotions and behaviours.

“When they first arrive, typically I hear feelings frustration, anger, shock, disappointment, being overwhelmed, feelings of self-doubt, and of being tired,” she says. “Usually by the end of one session they report feeling optimistic, inspired, grateful and recharged.”

When it comes to dealing with the emotions that come with job loss, Bianca shares some tips to overcome this difficult period in a healthy, constructive way:

Create a schedule and stick with it. Without a job to go to everyday, it can be way too easy to sit and home and just do nothing, however this will not do you any favours. Create a schedule and include everything from physical exercise, self-care activities, networking, and job searching activities. Start your day at the same time you would if you were employed. Waking up early with a plan will help to keep you healthy and optimistic on your search for employment.

Self-Care. Wake up and get ready as if you were going to work as opposed to sleeping in and staying in sweatpants all day. Start an exercise routine, and eat healthy. Take up a hobby or do something that you love. When you practice self-care, you are sending a message to yourself that you are worth it, and it will show in how you interact with the world.

Stay Connected.  Without a job, it can be easy to isolate yourself by hiding out at home, but it can have negative side effects to your mental health. Staying connected could be as simple as taking your laptop to a café to do some of your job hunting activities, joining some fitness classes, or just meeting a friend for dinner.

Network. This is another great way to stay connected and could also open up some doors when it comes to work. Meet with a professional in an area that you are interested in, or attend a networking event, and never be afraid to ask questions – you never know who you may meet, and what kind of opportunities you might find.

Be in positive company. Losing your job can mean some huge life changes that can already leave you feeling quite negative, so it is important that the company you keep is not. Surround yourself with friends and family that will offer support during these times instead of adding to the difficulty. It is amazing what a positive support system can do.

If you have recently been laid off, and you are interested in connecting with other facing a similar situation, you can join the Laid Off Calgary Facebook group to stay up-to-date with group times, or email Bianca at laidoffcalgary@gmail.com for more information.

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