UI Employee Assistance Program

Campus Address
121-50 USB
Mailing Address

121 University Services Building, Suite 50
Iowa City, IA 52242-1911
United States

A layoff or furlough is always stressful. In the worst cases, it can trigger trauma reactions akin to responses people feel after a disaster or other crisis. It also can take a toll on self esteem.

Learn to recognize and cope with trauma reactions, build self esteem, and adopt other practices that restore emotional health.

Typical Trauma Reactions

Trauma reactions are normal responses to extremely abnormal circumstances. It's important to let yourself react, to help yourself, and to seek help from others.

Common trauma reactions fall into four basic categories:

Psychological and Emotional

  • Heightened anxiety or fear
  • Irritability, restlessness, or over-excitability
  • Feelings of sadness or moodiness; more crying than usual
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Feelings of numbness or detachment
  • Re-experiencing of the traumatic event, possibly including:
    • Intrusive thoughts or images of the event
    • Distressing dreams or nightmares
    • Flashbacks about the event
    • Distress when exposed to events that remind you of the trauma
  • Feelings of estrangement or isolation from others
  • Hyper-vigilance (feeling especially attuned to events around you, scanning the environment for possible danger)


  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling confused or distracted
  • Feeling like you're thinking more slowly than normal


  • Headaches
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Exaggerated startle response (e.g., tendency to startle easily at loud noises)
  • Fatigue or feeling slowed down


  • Hyperactivity or less activity
  • Heightened tendency to behave irritably
  • Withdrawal or social isolation
  • Avoiding activities or places that remind you of traumatic event
  • Insomnia
  • Strong need to talk about the event

If you've been laid off or furloughed, you may recognize some of these reactions. Remember that your response is normal. It's important to take care of yourself as best you can.

Self-Care Strategies

Keep reminding yourself that your responses are normal reactions to a stressful situation. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Your body and mind will tell you what you need to do—your job is to listen to them.

Get plenty of rest when you're tired and use the energy you have.  Don't force yourself to be active if you don't have the energy, or to rest when you don't feel tired.

Talk to people as much as you need to. Reach out. If you know someone who is willing to listen, use them to talk to about how you are feeling. If you don't have anyone in your support network, consider calling a crisis line, going to a crisis center, or using other community resources like the Employee Assistance Program. These resources exist to help you.

Spend time with others even if you don't feel like talking. It can be very comforting to know you're not alone. Try to find someone or someplace that feels safe and comforting to you. Spend time there.

Don't make major life decisions or big life changes if don't need to. Though you're likely to be looking for a new job, this isn't a time to do anything out of the ordinary in other dimensions of your life. Concentrate on taking care of yourself.

Do things that feel good to you. Take baths, read, exercise, watch television, spend time with friends and family, fix yourself a special treat, or do whatever else feels nurturing and self-caring.

Allow yourself to cry, rage, and express your feelings when you need to. Try not to numb your feelings with alcohol or drugs—they will only complicate your situation.

Recovery from Trauma

Recovering from a trauma may take a long time. The initial response of disruption—perhaps alternating with numbness—may last days, weeks, or longer. Don't be surprised if you continue to experience these reactions for longer than you expected. 

It's impossible to predict how long you will experience trauma reactions. But they usually decrease gradually over time. 

If you experience another stressful event while recovering, you may find that your trauma reactions reappear for a while. This re-activation, or delayed trauma response, is perfectly normal.

At any time during this process, you may find it useful to ask for professional help from a counselor or mental health professional. There are some circumstances under which you should definitely get professional help:

  • If you find yourself feeling suicidal or contemplating suicide
  • If you find that your daily functioning continues to be impaired so that you cannot carry out your life tasks
  • If post-trauma fears interfere with your ability to return to certain places or situations that remind you of the trauma


Self-esteem impacts how we view ourselves, the relationships we choose, the jobs we secure, and a whole lot more. Self-esteem isn't something we pick up off the store shelf—we work to maintain it all through our lives.

So, what makes up our self esteem?

  • Perceptions of ourselves emotionally and physically
  • Hearing our internal thoughts, or self talk
  • Acceptance of self and acknowledgement of shortcomings
  • Life experiences, reflections of those experiences, and processing the impact of life experiences and reality

When we think of low self-esteem we often think of timid people reluctant to speak their minds.  But people with low self-esteem can be insecure or super-confident, non-productive or highly driven, evasive and vague or specific and manipulative, distant or needy, etc.

There are many ways to wreck our self-esteem, including:

  • Overgeneralization about negative aspects of life
  • Black and white thinking the offers only two alternatives
  • Filtering to hear what we want to
  • Stereotype labels that take away a person’s individuality
  • Mind-reading  that reduces new things we may learn about a person
  • "Shoulds" that prompt us to ignore our "wants” and “needs”
  • Self-blame that absolves others of responsibility in a situation
  • Comparing that makes us lose track of what we really want

These habits of thought can emerge after a layoff or furlough as you try to make sense of what's happened. You can avoid them by:

  • Taking things one step at a time
  • Putting more balance in your life
  • Learning to say no
  • Remembering to have fun
  • Surrounding yourself with healthy people

Small changes that can have a big effect on your self-esteem, especially as you deal with fallout of an unexpected crisis like job loss:

  • Re-evaluate the demands on you. Balance the shoulds with your wants.
  • Watch what you do when you make a mistake—learn to forgive yourself.
  • Pick five things you would like to do for yourself and do two.
  • Spend your valuable time with people who are encouraging and good for you.
  • Eat nourishing meals and exercise.
  • Make new choices and find support for those new ideas.
  • Do something for yourself at least once a day.
  • Ask for help when you need it.

Finally try this exercise: Take a few minutes to write down five positive qualities about yourself. Then take the list to a close friend or family member and ask them to add one or two qualities. Do this with a couple people in your life. Enjoy the great gift you just received—and believe it.

Information about trauma reactions and recovery adapted from University Counseling Service Materials. Information about self-esteem adapted from sources used with permission from Impact Publications, Inc.