Any outdoor enthusiast will tell you that the key to surviving whatever might befall you out there is to inform and equip yourself properly long before anything bad happens. Surviving a layoff is no different: the better you plan now and equip yourself for the possibility, the better you’ll be able to handle it if it comes.

The psychological and financial effects of a layoff can be devastating. ”It’s difficult to make decisions while you’re in upheaval mode,” says Colleen Smith, a career/business coach and psychotherapist in residence with The Women’s Center in Vienna, Va. A well-devised plan that includes a budget, knowledge of your legal rights, an emotional support system and a proactive job search is essential to getting through a layoff. Here are the things you should consider should a layoff be even a possibility:

Budget: Examine your spending habits and cut out anything that you absolutely don’t need. Be creative – buddy up with others to pool grocery resources; reevaluate your phone and cable plans, car insurance, gas usage, eating out and everything you spend anything on. Be tough. Remember, premium cable channels are not necessities, and coupons are now in vogue.

Insurance: If you currently have health insurance, your employer must provide you with the option of continuing it under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). But COBRA has limitations and can be costly. Research other options for individual plans, and consider reducing your monthly premium by including a high deductible.

Flexible/Medical Spending Accounts: This money is yours! Don’t lose out by not spending it before you leave employment. Schedule medical, dental and vision appointments while you are still working.

Your legal rights: A good starting point is to reread your employee or personnel handbook to familiarize yourself with the company’s policies on severance packages. “Keep in mind, though, that these are only policies, not regulations, and they are subject to change by the company,” advises attorney Michael E. Veve with Lasa, Monroig & Veve in Tysons Corner, Va. Consult an attorney before signing any waivers only if you feel you have a potential lawsuit against the company. “Remain professional with your employer during severance negotiation,” Veve counsels. “You don’t want to burn bridges, and it’s the perfect time to ask for a good reference letter as well.”

Your emotions: “Expect to deal with a loss of identity, belonging and status. That’s why it’s important to have a plan that reduces your fears and increases your sense of being in control,” says Smith. To help you get through the emotional impact of a layoff before it happens, rally a support network of friends and family. Be sure you have someone to talk to and somewhere to go once you’re not at work. Join groups that serve your religious, fitness and emotional needs.

Your job search: “Don’t wait to start looking for a new job,” suggests Jimmy Price of the Virginia Employment Commission’s Alexandria Workforce Center. “It’s common knowledge that it’s easier to find a new job while you’re still employed.” Collect your performance reviews and search through your inbox and folders to remind yourself of all you’ve achieved while there, then get busy updating that resume and contacting employers for whom you’d like to work next.

There’s no need to face the great unknown of getting laid off without knowledge and equipment. And hopefully, if you are forced to weather a layoff, you’ll soon have a happy survival story to tell.

In Part 2, we’ll examine short- and long-term strategies for surviving a layoff once it happens.

This special advertising section was written by Laura K. Nickle and Janet Dopsovic of Communi-k, Inc., in conjunction with The Washington Post Custom Content department. The production of this supplement did not involve The Washington Post news or editorial staff.