Are rumors of layoffs circulating at work? Worried that the ax is about to fall on you?  Did you dodge a bullet in the first round -- but fear there are more rounds coming?

Take a deep breath. You're far from alone. And really, being laid off isn't so bad -- you won't starve, you won't end up living in the streets, your family and friends won't stop speaking to you, and unless your job was at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, the sun will rise the next morning. I promise.

I can say that because I've been through it, as have many of my friends. It seemed like it should have been awful at the time, but it wasn't as awful as I'd feared. And it would have been even less awful if I'd known a few things beforehand.

'Tis the season to be … job hunting
The list of companies that weren't able to wait until the new year before announcing significant layoffs is getting longer by the day. Here are just a few from recent headlines:

Company

Recent layoffs announced

Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO)

1,500

Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS)

10% of workforce (about 3,250)

Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM)

7% of workforce (about 110)

AT&T (NYSE:T)

12,000

Viacom (NYSE:VIA)

850

3M (NYSE:MMM)

2,300

Rio Tinto (NYSE:RTP)

14,000

Lots of folks, maybe including people you know, have recently had the difficult experience of leaving work for the last time. Chances are good that many more will join them in the coming months, unfortunately.

If cuts are looming at your employer and you're worried that you're not going to survive, there are a few things you can do in advance to manage the actual experience of getting laid off, both logistically and emotionally:

  • Locate your copy of the employee manual and read up on severance policies, insurance coverage, and anything else you can find that might be useful to know if you get let go.
  • Find out how to apply for unemployment payments in your state. No, it won't jinx you, do it now! Here's why: Getting signed up for unemployment is often a cumbersome, obnoxious, condescending, and completely maddening process. Knowing that in advance, and resolving -- again, in advance -- to endure it with good humor if it should become necessary is far better than getting hit with The Bureaucratic Stupid Stick out of the blue, while you're still emotionally reeling from the job loss.
  • Talk to anyone you know who has been laid off -- if you're sitting on a knot of unfocused dread at the possibility of losing your job, hearing what their day-to-day experiences are like may ease your anxieties somewhat. At least you'll have some idea of what you're dealing with, and some kindred souls to meet for coffee and commiseration if the worst happens. If they can deal with it, you can. (And if they're dealing with it badly, learn from their experience and think about what you'd do differently.)
  • Run the numbers. What would it really mean if you lost your income? How much would you get from unemployment insurance? How long would your severance run? How would you pay the mortgage and feed the kids? Again, this is about understanding the reality of what awaits, and understanding that no matter what, you can deal with it. If you're married, absolutely do this with your spouse -- the more information you both have, the better you'll do at working together to find solutions.

Last and not least, if and when the big moment comes and you get called into the scary office, stay cool. Resist the urge to lash out at the person delivering the news -- trust me, they aren't happy about it either. Remember that you're in good company, and don’t take it personally. It's not your fault, and like I said, you have lots of company.

That said, if they ask you to sign anything, don't -- ask to take the paperwork with you, so that you can review it with a clear head in the morning. (This article explains why.) If they try to insist you sign on the spot, stay calm and don't feel intimidated. They can't stop you from leaving the building if you don’t sign, and they can't deny you severance just because you ask for a little time to read the paperwork first.

To read more on avoiding and dealing with layoffs:

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Fool contributor John Rosevear has no position in the companies mentioned. 3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Akamai Technologies is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.