Even a short job search can become a significant burden on your mental health. Unemployment is very stressful, and looking for a job quickly becomes frustrating for many people. It is important not to let this anxiety and pessimism influence into your job search, however. Employers want to hire energetic, motivated people, and you will be a much more attractive candidate if you have a positive and enthusiastic attitude.
You can cultivate this attitude by incorporating the right habits into your regular routine. Whether your job search takes a week, a month, or a year, it is important that you take steps to keep your mind, body, and relationships healthy. Just because your career is paused doesn’t mean your life needs to be. With these mental health strategies, you can ensure that you will stay motivated and fend off doubt throughout your job search.
The loss of a regular routine is a large part of what makes unemployment feel so disorienting. Using your time effectively when you do not have a work schedule to follow can be a real challenge. In the morning you will feel like you have all the time in the world to look for a job, but by the end of the day you will be left wondering where that time went and why you haven’t accomplished anything at all.
The best solution to this is to treat your job search like it’s your job. Creating a schedule and forcing yourself to stick to it comes with a steep learning curve, but it’s worth it. This is the best way to ensure that you stay on-task throughout your day and don’t start wallowing in the stress and uncertainty that accompanies many people’s job search. As Kevin Makra at Workopolis says, “Disorganization leads to added stress and an ineffective search.”
Your personal schedule doesn’t need to be a corporate nine-to-five, however. Create a schedule that works for you. You can dedicate certain times to certain things, like finding appealing job postings in the morning and applying to them in the afternoon, or taking long breaks in the middle of the day to hit the gym. Mary Sherwood Sevinsky, writing for SDMRCC, recommends setting each day of the week aside for specific tasks. For example, dedicate one day of the week to finding and applying to jobs on online job boards and another day to practicing your interview skills. The important thing is to establish a schedule that promotes an effective job search and strictly maintain it. “Get specific. Give yourself deadlines”, recommends Workitdaily’s Ariella Coombs.
Goal setting is another great way to stay focused and motivated during your job search. Goals can serve as important markers for your accomplishments, both in simple day-to-day tasks and in the longer term. “If you don’t have short- and long-term plans, it is difficult to tell if you are on the right path or, even, if you have arrived!” says SDMRCC’s Sevinsky.
A system of goal-setting is integral to an effective job-search routine. By creating specific objectives throughout your job search you ensure that you are consistently working towards something and using your time productively. Forbes recommends that you “Decide on an appropriate start and stop time for the day, jot down a list of goals (i.e. ‘follow up with three companies’ and ‘send resume to that cool art start-up’), and structure your schedule accordingly.”
When you are planning your goals, be sure to set “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals. SMART goals are relatively small, attainable objectives that will move you closer to your greater goal—getting a great job—without overwhelming you. Jim Schreier at Workitdaily recommends SMART job search-related goals like:
By breaking up your day into important but doable tasks like this, you will be better able to manage the stresses of the job hunt. Finding the right job can seem like an impossible undertaking, but when it is broken into its component parts you will see that it is quite manageable.
While setting and achieving goals is important, it is important not to burn yourself out. You may be tempted to overwork yourself in an attempt to minimize the amount of time you spend looking for a job, but this strategy can backfire. Speed can come at the expense of quality, and committing to too much too fast can overwhelm you. For this reason, it is important to pace yourself and allow time for taking a breather when necessary.
This can simply involve scheduling time for breaks throughout your day as you look for work. Allowing for an hour to read a book, go for a walk, or otherwise de-stress is a great way to make sure you don’t wear yourself out. It may also be, however, that you need to step away from the job search for a few days. “The more detached and listless you feel, the more time you’ll need to disconnect and recoup”, writes Melody J Wilding at The Muse. Just as a job can become overwhelming without any time away, dedicating too much time to the job search may result in burnout. A stress-induced breakdown will set you far further back than a bit of time off would. As ZipRecruiter notes, stepping away from your job search can provide a “much-needed mental break from the entire process, meaning you can come back with fresh eyes and a fresh attitude.” If you find your spirits are down or your enthusiasm is flagging, it may be time for a break.
Stressful situations can beget unhealthy behaviour, which then exacerbates stress. Don’t let your search for a job become an excuse to eat too much, stop exercising, and start neglecting your health. You will be much more productive when your body is strong and healthy. As Workitdaily’s Amy-Louise Goldberg advises, “taking care of ourselves helps to relieve the tension that inherently accompanies the job search process. If we neglect our health, we are just adding to the stress we already feel.”
Further, employers want to hire healthy people. You don’t want to walk into a job interview a stressed-out wreck; you want to stride in confidently, back straight and head high. Your physical health is an important part inhabiting this confidence.
This includes diet. Don’t eat your stress. When it comes to diet, Workopolis’ Kevin Makra recommends that you “Give your body the proper nutrients to deal with the added stress that comes with job transition. Don’t forget to drink lots of water.” The pressure of the job search can cause you to crave comfort food, but a poor diet will make your stress even worse.
As important as diet is exercise. “Exercise is one of the best strategies for combating stress”, claims Healthline. Engaging in physical activities improves your strength and cardiovascular health, produces endorphins that improve your mood, and draws your focus away from the stresses of the day. All of these effects work to improve your mental health and stave off the despair that often comes with unemployment. “Even if it’s just going for a 15-minute stroll, getting your blood flowing is imperative to feeling happy and healthy”, says job.com.
Searching for a job can feel isolating. No longer spending entire days with coworkers, when unemployed you may begin to feel terribly abandoned, spending most or all of your days alone. If you were recently let go from a stressful job, this solitude can feel like a relief at first. After a time, however, a lack of social interaction becomes lonely. This feeling will add to your stress and anxiety and make your job search harder than it needs to be.
For this reason, it is important to maintain a healthy social life. Workitdaily’s Coombs recommends that you “do things that get you out of the house and hanging out with people a few times a week.” This can be as simple as meeting up with friends. Even a quick cup of coffee with an old colleague can provide some relief from your solitary job search. “Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone—a soothing call with someone you love and trust can do wonders for your flagging confidence,” says Forbes. A robust support network is an important asset to keeping yourself healthy and happy in a stressful situation.
Your social life can be made practical, too. Attending networking events is a great way to improve your social life and make professional connections at the same time. According to Forbes, “whether it’s attending a fun industry meet-up, connecting with a contact over a cup of coffee, or volunteering your services for a cause you’re passionate about, it can’t hurt when others are able to put a face to your resume.” Meeting people in your industry is fun, and it’s good for your job search, too. This doesn’t need to be an event strictly for networking, either—Kevin Makra at Workopolis recommends you “Attend a tradeshow, take a class, or consider volunteering.”
This advice may seem impossible to implement—of course you would stop worrying if you could!—but it is bears mentioning. By focusing too much on the uncertain future and over-analyzing your circumstance and decisions, you may be causing your situation to seem worse than it really is. While unemployment is certainly an obstacle to overcome, it is a common one, and one that many people have faced and beaten before. Your attitude should reflect this reality; no matter how dire your situation seems, you are more than able to get over it. “Begin to adopt a mental attitude from which you talk to yourself with courage, frankness and good cheer”, recommends Ken Sundheim at Forbes. “Focus less on the problems that occur and put your energy into possible solutions.”
This doesn’t mean, of course, that your worries are invalid. Unemployment is stressful, and the anxiety it makes you feel is genuine. “Don't be afraid to talk about your worries, and don't feel silly if it all seems a bit much”, advises Libby Page at The Guardian. Remember that excessive worrying can be counterproductive and that keeping this stress to yourself can exacerbate the uncertainty you feel. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Sharing your stresses with a compassionate friend will do wonders to ease your burden. Unemployment can be a solitary experience, but you don’t have to suffer alone.
Ben is a writer and customer support specialist with 5 years of experience helping job-seekers create their careers. He believes in the importance of a great resume and the power of coffee.
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