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How to Tackle Job Search Anxiety


May 24, 2023

“Job search anxiety” isn’t an official psychological condition, but job seekers know that it’s a very real thing. That’s because – newsflash – looking for a job is stressful! Uncertainty about the future, financial strain, repeated rejections, interview nerves, and the overwhelming nature of the whole thing are just a few of the anxiety-inducing aspects of looking for a job.

But you are in control of your mental health and your job search, and there’s plenty you can do to get rid of job search anxiety or its cousin, job search depression. Read on for practical tips and advice.

Set Realistic Expectations

Landing a job can take a long time – probably longer than you thought. The BLS reports that in April 2023, the median duration of unemployment for current unemployed persons was 10.5 weeks, and the mean (average) was 22.4 weeks.

What does this mean for you? Don’t stress over not landing a job in just a few weeks. Statistically, you can expect your job search to last two to six months, maybe more. Cut yourself some slack!

Tame Stress and Anxiety

Whatever the specific source of your job search anxiety, make a point to incorporate stress-busting activities into your day. Maybe you already know what calms you down, whether that’s a few laps in the pool, listening to soothing music, or playing with your pet. Other research-backed ways to reduce stress and/or anxiety include:

Reframe Negative Self-Talk

It’s completely natural to feel disheartened when you’re struggling to find a job. Your negative outlook may be uncomfortable, but it’s a normal human reaction to a stressful situation. The key is to not let these feelings consume you but rather to acknowledge them and use them as a catalyst for positive action.

When you catch yourself going down the negative self-talk rabbit hole, pause for a moment. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Remember, your thoughts aren’t necessarily facts – thinking you’ll never find a job doesn’t mean you’ll be jobless for life – and it’s okay to feel what you feel.

Then, consider whether there’s a more constructive narrative you can create for yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to replace your negative thoughts with blindly optimistic ones, but rather with affirmations that reinforce resilience and self-compassion. For instance:

  • It’s tough right now, but I’m resilient and I’m doing my best to find a job.
  • The right job for me may take time to find, and that’s okay.
  • I am a capable candidate and I will continue to search for a position that suits me.

This approach may help reduce anxiety because it encourages you to remain present and grounded, rather than constantly worrying about the future. Research does show that mindfulness and self-compassion practices are associated with lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol.

Remember, it’s okay to seek support from others during this time. Talking about your feelings with someone you trust can be incredibly beneficial. And if you find that your anxiety or stress levels continue to be high, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for further support.

Feeling Strapped for Cash? Face Your Financial Situation Head-On

One major cause of stress for unemployed job seekers is the very real prospect of money running out before finding employment. If this is you, be proactive – don’t simply hope for the best, assuming you’ll land a good-paying job just in time.

Some things you can do to get through this time:

  • Reduce living expenses temporarily: cut out little luxuries like Netflix and restaurant meals, find a roommate to share living expenses, or even move to a less expensive place if that’s an option.
  • Sign up for unemployment benefits if you’re eligible.
  • Look into reducing or deferring federal student loan payments if eligible (if you have private student loans, speak directly with your lender about your options).
  • If you have good credit, consider transferring high-interest credit card debt to a new card with a zero-interest balance transfer period.
  • Inquire about skipping loan payments on your auto or personal loans. Work with your bank before you’re late on payments, not after.
  • Bring in money any way you can: Get a part-time job, start a gig economy job, sign up for a temp agency, earn money working from home, sell items you no longer need, etc.

In an ideal world, you’d land your dream job tomorrow and wouldn’t have to worry about money again. But if you’re in between jobs right now and money’s tight, cutting expenses and/or bringing in some cash will go a long way toward quelling your job search anxiety.

Procrastinating? Forgive Yourself

Procrastination is strongly linked with stress and anxiety. Avoiding unpleasant tasks is, unfortunately, an effective way to avoid unpleasant emotions associated with those tasks, which is why so many job seekers find themselves procrastinating right when they need to focus most.

But beating yourself up about it won’t help, and in fact, it can probably set you back even further. Instead, research suggests that forgiving yourself for procrastination in the past can help reduce procrastination in the future. You’re not lazy, and you’re not a loser. You’re simply resisting the job search process, and that’s totally normal.

Forgive yourself, make a clean break, and start fresh, with a new commitment not to procrastinate. How? See the next tip.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Tackle One Small Task at a Time

When there are so many things to do – practice interview skills, research companies, apply for jobs, grow your network, reach out to contacts, and on, and on – it’s hard to know where to start, and easy to simply do nothing at all.

Instead of doing nothing, do something small. Tackle just one tiny task each day and break down bigger to-dos into smaller tasks. Instead of “Apply to a job,” maybe Monday you identify interesting workplaces to apply to, Tuesday you research the companies, Wednesday you tailor your resume, Thursday you tailor your cover letter, and Friday, finally, you submit your applications. Count each small accomplishment as a win and keep moving forward.

Feeling Obsessed? Take a Break from the Job Search

If, on the other hand, you never let a day go by without pounding the pavement and your mind is filled with nothing but the job search, it’s time to take a (short) break.

A short study found that job seekers who “psychologically detached” from the job search at least once each week felt recovered and “more vigorous,” leading to renewed effort in the job search. It suggests that psychologically detaching – as in taking a mental break – from the job search can help job seekers maintain well-being and, ultimately, find success.

So don’t feel guilty for taking some time off. It could be the best thing you do for your mental health and your job search!

Enjoy Where You Are Right Now

If you knew – knew – that getting a job was a foregone conclusion, and just a matter of time, how would that change your experience right now?

Yes, it can be hard to stop and smell the roses when you’re consumed by job search anxiety. But the truth is, there’s a very good chance that someday in the future you’ll look back at this time in your life and realize it was a catalyst for something good that came your way.

If you’re in between jobs right now, you have a rare opportunity to go to the beach or the movies in the middle of the day or sleep in to your heart’s content. So take stock of the good things about your current situation and enjoy them to the fullest.